Thursday, September 20, 2018

Italians taking North Beach back for the younger generation

by pennylane986 (writer), San Francisco, March 30, 2007


The rumble of restaurant owners espousing their fine Italian cuisine, tourists mingled with locals bantering in sidewalk cafes, and a wild mix of colors as varied as the famed Italian gelato tempting passers-by through café windows welcomes you to San Francisco’s North Beach.

Long time residents and business owners of the city’s North Beach, affectionately known as Little Italy, feel that Chinatown is encroaching on their neighborhood, causing the area to be smaller than it has ever been. Young Italian blood is moving back into the neighborhood, taking over restaurants and delis with skills learned from their parents.

“Little Italy is now only one block for more Italians moved to the Richmond District; it has shifted,” said Francis Kulaga, a 23-year-old resident of the neighborhood.

Kulaga frequents local cafes and first fell in love with the area while living over the City Lights Bookstore, a hub for beatnik culture and aspiring poets.

His daily hangout is Caffe Greco, a coffee shop covered in Italian posters. It serves tiramisu, gelato and boasts the “best espresso in the neighborhood.”

Caffe Greco attracts a youthful crowd, from casually dressed students looking for a quiet, warm place to surf the web on their iBook, to creative corporate team-building luncheons full of pirate clad employees bearing swords and sporting earrings, ruffles and plastic parrots.

“In North Beach you got your yuppies, hippies, Italians, Chinese and tourists,” said Giulia D’Alo, owner of the Cose Belle Boutique, a charming, small store with
sparkling jewelry, clothing and accessories sure to make any girl feel feminine.

D’Alo knows many of the locals, as her family has worked in the neighborhood for 38 years.

Her Uncle, Antonio Latona, owned Caffe Sport on Green Street for 34 years, and when he passed away her cousin, Tony Latona, took over the business and has owned it for four years.

D’Alo fondly recalls the days when her father would buy her gifts at the jewelry store for occasions such as her birthday or her first Holy Communion.

Today, she owns that very same store.

Tony Latona, the vocal and humorous 20-year-old owner of Caffe Sport was born in San Francisco. Latona keeps the restaurant just as his father left it, with colorfully painted tables and an array of lamps and artifacts hanging from the walls and ceilings.

The wooden bar is polished from years of use and Latona happily recommends a fragrant, aromatic red wine, Montepulciano.

It is people like D’Alo and Latona that are taking back North Beach for the younger Italian generation.

The seating host of the Rose Pistola, Antonio Gamero, said that in recent years North Beach has become unaffordable, making it hard on the primarily middle class community, causing many businesses and apartments to remain vacant for long spans of
time, even years.

The older residents can still afford to live in the now expensive areas of North Beach because of the fixed rates on their mortgage and rent many years ago when apartments were more affordable.

The locals can be seen in restaurants and cafes, yelling across the sidewalk in Italian, but when one wanders further down the strip tourists can experience a time when progressive ideas were shared, and conservatism was resisted; the beatnik era.

From the City Lights Bookstore to the Beat Museum, North Beach is a hub for poets and those looking for history on Jack Kerouac, the Merry Pranksters and the Bus.

According to literature given in the doorway of the establishment, the City Lights Bookstore represents the Beats’ legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking, and the philosophy that good literature should be affordable, keeping items moderately priced and in paperback.

The scent of old wood and musty books with signs that read “I am the door” and “Sit down and read a book” are examples of this alternative, relaxed and free spirited generation that runs throughout North Beach.

About the Writer

pennylane986 is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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