(3) Vesuvio – Appraisal

Significance of Vesuvio:

Click on this link for a look at the PDF file of our complete Interpretive Plan for Vesuvio.

Management Policy

The management policy holds that all final decisions concerning the culture heritage management of Vesuvio ultimately lie with the management staff of Vesuvio. Our role as culture heritage consultants is to make educated and well-researched suggestions and proposals to present to Vesuvio’s staff. Our management plan will be created in dialogue with Vesuvio’s staff and stakeholders to create ideas that represent multivocal solutions. The plan will also reflect the overarching goal of the project, which is to convey and maintain Vesuvio’s identity and history.


These values are of course highly subjective and are left open to interpretation. They can also change as Vesuvio sees fit. These values were designed with a holistic and anthropological approach drawing heavily from culture heritage academic theory, specifically from Mason, R. 2002. Assessing Values in Conservation Planning: Methodological Issues and Choices and In Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage, edited by M. De la Torre, pp. 5-30. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles.

Historical Value:


Interior photo of Vesuvio, with Bruce Weiss tending bar, April 1963.

Mason (2002) describes historical value as “the capacity of a site to convey, embody, or stimulate a relation or reaction to the past” and states that is can come in various forms, such as the age of the site or from its association with people or events (11). Vesuvio embodies this definition on all accounts. The physical landscape of the bar, with its walls covered in art from the early days of Lenoir’s tenure to today, and its antique lighting and furniture, transports the visitor simultaneously to the past and into different narratives of the present.  The bar’s history is literally written on the walls; relics of the Beat movement hang on the walls along with photographs of patrons and works from local artists. This history also gives Vesuvio aesthetic value, for the bright colors and tangible imagery, along with the heirloom furnishings, create a sensory experience that is unique to Vesuvio and distinctly San Franciscan (Mason, 2002:11; Peters, 1998:199).

Cultural Value:

Mason (2002) defines cultural value as tools to build cultural affiliation in the present (11). Historically, Vesuvio has been an integral part of the counterculture movement, both because of its early clientele of exotic dancers, sailors, and the like, and because of its association with City Light’s Bookstore, a cradle of the Beat Generation (personal communication with E. Pallo, 2011).  Today, Vesuvio is still a center of counterculture, for it welcomes all types of people and continues to be a place that fosters political debate and artistic expression. For example, the bar identifies itself as a consistent place for alternative culture:  “[Vesuvio] remains an historical monument to jazz, poetry, art and the good life of the Beat Generation. Vesuvio attracts a diverse clientele: artists, chess players, cab drivers, seamen and business people, European visitors, off-duty exotic dancers and bon vivants from all walks of life” (http://www.vesuvio.com/index2.html). The diversity of counterculture characters that Vesuvio celebrates also constitutes two other values that Mason gives credence to: political value, best demonstrated by the Beats and their cultural and civil protests; and craft, or work-related value, expressed both in the celebration of artists and poets, as well as the art and science skills (mixology) of the bartenders (2002:11-12).

Social Value:


Bruce Weiss, tending bar with waitress Alice Holden,1950.

Mason (2002) defines social values as a site’s ability to enable and facilitate social connections and networks and its role or association with a particular community or neighborhood (12). On a very general level, Vesuvio is a neighborhood bar where people come to meet other people, chat with the bartenders, or to seek solitude in a familiar place.  Vesuvio can be equated to the village pub found in much of Europe – a center of social gathering, a designated social space for both locals and non-locals. As mentioned above, Vesuvio is also intimately tied to the city of San Francisco and indeed serves as a microcosm of the city.



"Homo Beatikus", postcard from scrapbook, c. 1950.

There is a multiplicity of stakeholders who sometimes have contradicting objectives at Vesuvio, though the majority of their overarching goals are similar enough that most friction is prevented. The owners desire success for Vesuvio so that their business and primary source of income can continue. The bartenders, cocktail waitresses, maintenance man, and night cleaning crew all have a large stake in Vesuvio as well. The beer, wine and soda vendors are also stakeholders since they get paid indirectly by Vesuvio’s clients and thus support Vesuvio and its core of patrons. Other important stakeholders include the local residents of the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods surrounding the bar. All of the artists, musicians, football (soccer) fans, and recipients of the fundraisers are also stakeholders. Patrons who frequent the bar regularly have a stake in Vesuvio. Tourists are also stakeholders as there are many visitor activities in the area such as exotic-dancing clubs, venues for live jazz and other music performances, poetry readings, art shows, coffee shops, and other working-class bars that keep old-time traditions alive. Other stakeholders are people involved with the tourism trade and historical preservation societies.

Interpretation and Multivocality: 

Our management and interpretation work together to achieve the same goals and are based on multivocality at all stages of the management process and interpretive projects (see Management Aims and Objectives and Management Policy sections for more information). Vesuvio is unique in that it has an acute awareness of its tangible and intangible heritage values as well as a distinctive sense of self. These features are the most important things to preserve and convey to the public. We equate the term preservation within the context of our management plan to continuity rather than to the archaeological understanding of the term. The goal of the preservation plan is to help Vesuvio to better articulate their own narrative with as few changes to the existing bar as possible, for Vesuvio is a living entity and should be maintained as such.

Visitor Experience and Access

The fact that Vesuvio is an active bar poses interesting challenges for interpretation and thus by extension, visitor experience and access. A bar is a fluid and socially essential entity where people come and go as both insiders and outsiders of the bar’s scene.  It is an extremely diverse landscape of stakeholders who range from regulars, to distributors to tourists, all of whose interests come together around alcohol and entertainment, though pursued and achieved in different ways.


Vesuvio patron, 2011.

The transient nature of its patronage, mixed with its presence as a valid social meeting place, has created an ethos that has facilitated the intertwined identity and function of Vesuvio. We thus seek to help Vesuvio articulate its identity and history to visitors through subtle interpretation. Subtle interpretation is defined here to mean interpretative tools or events that do not disrupt the normal flow and atmosphere of the bar and enhance the understanding of Vesuvio’s story.

Therefore the visitor will receive no formal tour when coming into Vesuvio; they can get that experience virtually on the re-designed website. Instead, they will be encouraged to simply engage in the drinking, artistic, musical, and literary activities of the bar that are incorporated into our interpretive projects (see Implementation section for more details).

Vesuvio is a public space that is on a busy, major street in a heavily populated neighborhood. Parking is a challenge but public bus transportation is widely accessible. The bar is also handicap accessible to the level possible for such a building and business. Janet Clyde says that handrails were added to the stairwells leading up to the women’s restrooms and down to the men’s facilities to comply with ADA regulation.




Photo courtesy of photobucket.com.

For an interactive GigaPan image of the cocktail above, click on this link and scroll through the snapshots under the image. Once the snapshot is selected, more contextual information will appear to the bottom, right of the image.

Vesuvio does not stand one either side of the tourism line for while it supports certain kinds of tourism, the bar is more strongly committed to its local patrons. Vesuvio does participate in some of the tourist folklore, even serving a drink called “The Jack Kerouac,” but while they appreciate the patronage and want to welcome new clients, Vesuvio wants to be a place of peace where locals can be left undisturbed.


Henri Lenoir's do-it-yourself BEATNIK KIT displayed in the front window, sometime in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

There are many connections to tourism in the area. For example, visitors who come to participate in local events may also be interested in Vesuvio. Some of these points of interest include local (from North Beach as well as San Francisco) art, music and literature festivals; local culture promotional happenings; visitors to the San Francisco Art Institute (in North Beach); neighborhood art galleries and music venues; The Beat Museum; City Lights Books; and other famous watering holes like The Saloon, Specs, Tosca Cafe, and Café Trieste.

Vesuvio has garnered accolades and recommendations from around the world. It has received write-ups in printed and online travel guides like Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Fodor’s; in local, national and international newspapers and magazines; and on interactive tourist sites such as Yelp and Citysearch. Vesuvio is a popular stop on the agendas of many walking tours and in general is a vital part of the San Francisco experience for vacationers from all walks of life. There are also Happy Hour specials advertised above the bar, on the Internet, and on a sidewalk sandwich board outside the bar. Ultimately, word-of-mouth advertising is one of Vesuvio’s best tools for tourism.

Community Events

Courtesy of vesuvio.com.

Vesuvio holds a variety of in-house events that encourage cultural awareness. Some of these include poetry and literature readings of both contemporary and past writers, live World Cup match screenings with pancake breakfast specials, “educational” materials like “Leo’s Short Guide to Good Bar Behavior,” and painting, illustration and other art media displays in the bar.

To keep Vesuvio (relatively) up-to-date, the owners ask for employee, patron, and other stakeholder input in addition to the usage of non-aggressive marketing for bigger events. Vesuvio also sponsors all-ages events with a strong emphasis on the immediate community. For instance, the event that owner-manager Janet Clyde is proudest of is Jazz in the Alley, which takes place in Jack Kerouac Alley and was inspired by local artist Elizabeth Ashcroft. Two other functions in the Alley are the mixed-media gathering Art in the Alley, and A Fair To Remember that features twenty-plus local designers, artists, collectors, and scavengers and happens once a month from April to October. Here is a little film about the latter event:

Regional Links

Vesuvio is in the heart of North Beach San Francisco and remains an integral part of the neighborhood. North Beach is adjacent to Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, two sections of the city with their own distinct identities. A large part of the management plan deals with maintaining and expanding Vesuvio’s close tie with the North Beach community (see the Interpretation section and Implementation section for more details) and specific interpretative projects linking the bar to its surrounding neighborhoods.


Posted on May 11, 2011, in Anthro136k-spring2011-UC-Berkeley, Anthro136kSp11, Microhistories, Vesuvio-Bar-San-Francisco and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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