Specs’–the Best Dive Bar and San Francisco

Years ago in Hamburg a friend I and were wandering and came across Harry’s Harbor Bazaar. As I remember it was two buildings, connected by an upstairs doorway created by bashing through adjacent walls. It was a three story warren, a maze, a labyrinth, crammed with stuff supposedly collected from an old pub that accepted things like masks, shrunken heads, carvings, idols, and musical instruments sailors brought from their travels and traded for booze. You could buy most anything on display, but the majority of people just walked the aisles stunned not only by the oddity but the sheer vastness of the collection. It has changed owners and locations since I was there, but it still retains the charm of an overstuffed Natural History museum storage room arranged in haste for an inspection.

One of the many idols you will see at Specs. The walls and shelves at Specs are filled with antiques, treasures, and oddities.

The collection at Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Café, or Specs’, isn’t as big, not by a longshot. It’s a bar, after all, not a warehouse-as-museum. But what it lacks in size more than makes up for by serving drinks to a cast of North Beach regulars who fit nicely into the ambiance the artifacts create.

There is dust on the upper shelves and stuff too far away for someone to reach, because if someone can’t touch it why bother dusting it? The walls and ceilings are brown from decades of burning tobacco and occasional pot, a reminder of times when smoking was allowed indoors. It is cramped and therefor friendly. You will likely have to squeeze by other patrons, maybe even share one of the bigger tables, and the close proximity inspires spontaneous casual conversations.

Some of the North Beach regulars hanging out at Specs.

If you’re lucky, you may wander in when there is music, book reading, or sketch class.

Mr. Lucky and the band performing at Specs.

Spec’s is the kind of bar a good traveler hopes to discover. It’s off the tourist path, has a unique eccentricity, and caters to the locals.

I encourage my guests to get a drink here, Tosca across the alley, and Vesuvio’s across the street. The three bars put together give a good overview of the spirit of North Beach.

Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

12 William Saroyan Place, 94133  Phone 415-421-4112

4pm-1am, 2am Thursday-Saturday

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