Following Kerouac in San Francisco, part 2: Vesuvio Cafe

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

After starting my exploration of Jack Kerouac's favorite spots in San Francisco at the City Lights Bookstore, I ventured across "Jack Kerouac Alley" to get to Vesuvio Cafe, where Kerouac and other Beats liked to go to drink. I made my way up to the 2nd floor, where I found a table and settled in, with this view (below) looking out the window at one of the murals painted on the exterior of City Lights Bookstore.


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View from inside Vesuvios bar in San Francisco where Jack Kerouac used to hang out

Here's another view (below left) from my table on the 2nd floor of Vesuvio, looking down at the main floor and the bar (check out the bright red wig on the bartender, in the bottom right corner of the picture). As you can see, they haven't done a whole lot to modernize the establishment, so it's probably not a big stretch to think that it strongly resembles the look and feel from the 1950's when Kerouac and his friends would have been there. Of course that's part of the charm and draw to the place ... I'm sure the owners know that fans of Kerouac and the Beats want to feel like they're stepping back in time.

I wondered, however, if the table where I was sitting was a current-day nod back to Kerouac and his drinking habits here? Is it just me, or does the guy next to the martini glass (see images below right) look like a little cartoon version of Kerouac?

Vesuvio Cafe where Kerouac and the Beats hung out

Table at Vesuvio with a guy who looks like Jack Kerouac

The walls and stairway down to the lower level bathroom have some interesting art/collage going on, as you can see below. I learned that they were the work of Shawn O'Shaughnessy (1928-1998), who came back from a tour of duty in the Korean War to study art in L.A. and later San Francisco, where he then settled in and made Vesuvio one of his many art projects. These geometric designs were the result of a painstaking process O'Shaughnessy developed where he dyed and lacquered notebook paper to create the elaborate patterns. In reading up on O'Shaughnessy, I learned that he made the tabletops too! It's almost like Vesuvio was his personal studio and exhibition space!

the collage art of Vesuvio interiors by Shawn O'Shaughnessy

interior view of Vesuvio with art by Shawn O'Shaughnessy

According to the Vesuvio website, "On October 17, 1955, Neal Cassady, the real life Dean Moriarty of Jack Kerouac's quintessential Beat classic On the Road, stopped at Vesuvio on the way to the now legendary Six Gallery for a poetry reading, and the place has never been the same. It became a regular hangout of Jack Kerouac and other famous Beat poets and has become ground zero for pilgrims on the Beat trail ever since."