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7 North Beach businesses that powered through the pandemic

In Here/Say’s series “When the Lights Come Up in the City,” we tour three neighborhoods in partnership with Broke-Ass Stuart to learn how community leaders pivoted to success during the pandemic.

Next up: North Beach.

Nestled within steep hills and narrow streets, North Beach is San Francisco’s most European feeling neighborhood, so it made sense that the community embraced the idea of bustling piazzas when COVID shut down indoor activity throughout the city. 

While the rest of San Francisco seemed to grind to a halt, the people and places of North Beach never fully stopped churning. Vibrant parklets sprung up along street corridors and outdoor entertainment flourished amid the historic stomping grounds of the Beat Generation

As the bohemian heart of San Francisco, it’s a place where everybody knows each other, and everybody looks after each other. When the pandemic hit, neighbors stepped up to help other neighbors and small businesses acted as anchors in a sea of unpredictability. 

In our second episode of “When The Light’s Come Up in the City,” we profile Al’s Attire, Columbus Cafe and Bay Area Jazz Mobile, who tell us how they got creative and kept the energy alive in North Beach. We couldn’t pack all North Beach has to offer into 10 minutes, but here are seven more neighborhood fixtures who kept the neighborhood buzzing. 

1. Local Maker Mart | 580 Green St.

Local Maker Mart’s interior. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Artist and CEO of Recreation Sound Systems Greg Castellanos took over an empty Citibank building right before the pandemic and made it a temporary artist and maker pop-up shop.

The Pitch: Local Maker Mart is a place where artists and makers can display their creations while the public can peruse their work, listen to tunes and meet people.

The Hustle: Opened right before the pandemic in order to creatively activate an empty space, Local Maker Mart spent the pandemic as an oasis of art and culture in a city thirsty for action. Inside you will find art displays that range from jewelry and crystals to paintings and sculptures. On most weekends local musicians perform in front of Local Maker Mart, adding even more to the neighborhood’s vibrant energy. 

2. Palermo II Delicatessen | 658 Vallejo St.

Vince Balistreri of Palermo poses as he prepares the delicatessen to close for the day. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Opened in 2018 by brothers Frank and Vince Balistreri and Vince’s son, Tommy, Frank kept the business moving along throughout the pandemic.

The Pitch: Palermo is a Sicilian deli that sells both traditional cold cut and hot sandwiches, including creative signature sandwiches like the “Little Rocket Man” with hot salami, spicy coppa, vinaigrette, pepperoncini, fresh tomatoes and pepper jack.

The Hustle: Since San Francisco spent a year having to do everything outside, Palermo was a godsend for everyone who wanted to get a delectable sandwich while social distancing with their friends in Washington Square Park.

3. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers | 261 Columbus Ave.

Customers browse through books at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: One of the most famous bookstores in the world, City Lights was founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin in 1953. Ferlinghetti passed away just before his 102nd birthday in the midst of the pandemic. His death felt like the loss of a literary light within the city.   

The Pitch: City Lights is a true treasure. Beyond being a bookstore and a publisher, they’ve been on the forefront of the battle for equality, equity and human dignity since the 1950s.

The Hustle: As soon as it was safe to do so, City Lights opened their doors. Seeing City Lights continue to exist, even without its literary leader, was a balm to many spiritually and emotionally battered people during the pandemic.  

4. Tupelo | 1337 Grant Ave.

A bartender at Tupelo chats with a customer. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Musician and songwriter Teague Kernan started Tupelo over a decade ago to give North Beach one more solid place to have a bite, get a drink and hear kickass live music. 

The Pitch: Tupelo has long been a place where good vibes and affordable drinks mix with blues and rock and roll. And luckily, the pandemic didn’t slow that down.

The Hustle: There may have been a couple times when Tupelo was too popular during the pandemic, but that’s because the music never seemed to stop. As soon as they were able, they allowed bands to play within the bar and opened the floor-to-ceiling- length windows so those on the street could stop and listen.

5. Jeremy Fish’s ‘Stay Strong SF’ Spirit | All over North Beach and San Francisco

A mural painted by Jeremy Fish at his North Beach studio on Grant Ave. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Jeremy Fish is one of San Francisco’s most well-loved and popular contemporary artists.

The Pitch: Jeremy’s work has been a fixture of the San Francisco art scene for over 20 years, and his work became even more important during the pandemic.

The Hustle: Jeremy’s “Stay Strong San Francisco” poster was put up in hundreds of shuttered bars and restaurants during the pandemic. Not only did it give people hope, it also had a QR code so that people could help support out of work bar staff by donating to the US Bartenders Guild.

6. Belle Cora | 565 Green St.

Customers at Bella Cora dining at the restaurant's parklet. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Opened by Teague Kernan with business partner Nils Marthinsen in 2015, Belle Cora has been a hub for anyone who loves good wine and delicious morsels ever since.

The Pitch: Having been set up with outdoor seating from the get-go, Belle Cora has always been a place to have a sip and a bite while you enjoy watching the cavalcade of tourists and locals walk by.

The Hustle: As soon as they were able to, Belle Cora embraced the tumult of the pandemic by opening up a lovely parklet with fake grass on the street and wine barrels for tables. They also set it up so that live jazz could be played multiple nights a week.

7. Vesuvio | 255 Columbus Ave.

A man sits at the bar at Vesuvio Cafe. | Photo by Eloise Kelsey

The People: Founded in 1948 by artist Henri Lenoir, Vesuvio has been a hangout for artists, radicals and bohemians ever since. Janet Clyde started working at Vesuvio in 1979 and bought the place in 1997.

The Pitch: Covered in decades of art and drenched in 70+ years of memories and shenanigans, Vesuvio is one of the best bars in San Francisco.

The Hustle: While it was slower to reopen than other North Beach bars, when Vesuvio finally did so it was in absolute style. Not only did they put tables and chairs out in Kerouac Alley, they also began doing events there like the underground film series, Magic Lantern, put on by filmmaker Anthony Buchannan and local event producer Lapo Guzzini

Stay tuned for our next episode of “When The Lights Come Up In The City” which premieres July 29. 

Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at