Following Kerouac in San Francisco, part 2: Vesuvio Cafe

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 (above) looking out the window at one of the murals painted in the alley on the exterior of City Lights Bookstore. You can see a couple of the guys that I mentioned in the last post who were sitting in the alley, hanging out, drinking, playing music and panhandling.

Here’s another view 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, bottom right). 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.

Vesuvio Cafe where Kerouac and the Beats hung out

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 (bottom center of the table below) look like a little cartoon version of Kerouac?

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

Next up, I hit the streets in search of more Kerouac history in San Francisco … to be continued.