Caffé Trieste

Unfinished History

Hells-angel-and-friend-at-Caffe-Triests diggers-013 Chuck-Gould.jpg

Bill "Sweet Willie Tumbleweed" Fritsch, leader of San Francisco's Hells Angels in the mid-1960s when they were close to the Diggers.

Photo: © Chuck Gould, all rights reserved.


601 Vallejo Street, at Grant. The Trieste is a San Francisco institution, the last Beat hangout that's still full of local (and vocal) poets (and poetasters). Allen Ginsberg made a point of coming here when he was in San Francisco. Gregory Corso, one of the original Beats, is still a regular, as is local literary luminary Jack Hirschman, whose translations of Artaud (published by City Lights Books) are among the weirdest rantings of the 20th century. A sample: "There’s an acid and turbid anguish— powerful as a knife -- whose quartering is heavy as earth; an anguish of lightning, punctuated by abysms, serried and pressed like bedbugs, like a kind of brittle vermin whose every movement is congealed; an anguish where the mind chokes and cuts itself and kills itself." (from City Lights Artaud Anthology.)


Interior of Caffé Trieste, which has since the early 2000s become a local chain with several other outlets now open. But this is the decades-old original.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

If all this crazy beatnik stuff is beyond your ken, you may be more interested in the fact that Francis Ford Coppola once worked on the script to The Godfather at the Trieste's hospitable tables. If you have a masterpiece to write, work on it here and help make history. (Even the normally reclusive Dr. Weirde has been known to leave his sanctum sanctorium with pen and notebook in hand, hoping to imbibe the Trieste's mysteriously inspiring atmosphere. Or maybe, after a long night of communing with the spirits, he just needed a cup of that aromatic, extra-dark-roast coffee.)

If you show up here on Saturday, you may be surprised by the mildly bizarre spectacle of patrons, including the owner's family, suddenly breaking into full-throated operatic song, to the accompaniment of a melodically-wheezing accordion. Though you may feel like an extra in the musical comedy Mondo Trieste, you will in fact be witnessing a decades-old tradition, in which many famous opera singers have spontaneously participated.

--Dr. Weirde

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