North Beach in San Francisco has become a worldwide legend for its history of sin and impropriety, and the origination there of Beat poetry and topless dancing. Many people bemoan its spawning of topless dancing while others, particularly some schools of poets, denigrate its notoriety as the poetry hub of America.Yet the legend lives on and grows. One can still find the flame burning at the Sunday night readings at the Café Prague.

North Beach is a crossroads of the world where Italians and Chinese live and open restaurants. Artists and writers still talk and write in the old hotels, coffee houses and saloons. Topless bars and peepshows still draw the lonely and the tourists. And the rich from Telegraph tolerate entreaties from the derelict, drunk and stoned and sometimes fall down the social ladder to Grant Avenue, fried chicken legs and moldy hotel rooms.

San Francisco literary history goes back to the 19th century, but geographically we can begin its history on the Monkey Block at the base of Columbus Avenue. Built in the 1850's it was the largest office building of its day, But by the end of the century, it was abandoned by the tycoons of the day caught up in San Francisco's gold rush economic boom and gradually became an artists and writers hotel with over 300 rooms, studios and lofts. Over 2000 writers and artists lived there over the years including Ambrose Bierce, Frank Norris, Emma Goldman, Jack London, John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, Phillip Lamantia, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. SunYat Sen wrote the first Chinese constitution there. The Monkey Block stood for over a century where the Transamerica pyramid now pokes thru San Francisco's silver sky.

The Monkey Block spawned the famous bars and coffee houses of North Beach. In the 30s the Black Cat, where Canessa Gallery now is, and the Iron Pot grew in infamy in the Monkey Blocks shadow. Later in the 50s the artistic ferment spread to Grant Avenue.

The Cellar on Green off Grant, now the Cafe Sport, was the home of the first jazz-poetry fusions initiated by Kenneth Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen and joined by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The Co-existence Bagel Shop, The Place and the Bread and Wine Mission saw spontaneous eruptions of poetry by Bob Kaufman, Taylor Mead, William Everson and others. These Meccas of creativity, and the art and science of hanging out and hanging in, and its habitués became the target of police harassment which have haunted all the incarnations of San Francisco's Bohemia.