During the 1950s, the beatniks in North Beach would gather on the oldest street in San Francisco—Grant Avenue, which terminated with a narrow, four-block corridor crammed with bars, galleries, art shops, bookstores and Italian bakeries. Besides Vesuvio’s, City Lights, The Cellars, and Co-Existence Bagel Shop, other popular venues for these unconventional free-spirits were the Coffee Gallery and The Place. A few older local entrepreneurs, however, often vied with consumers over the “value” of these bohemians. Charges were placed with police that some of these establishments, such as Caffe Trieste, sold bootlegged whiskey. While the majority of the locals did not share this sentiment, a small conservative residential group demanded a crackdown in the summer of 1957.
A petition was submitted to city officials complaining that when these “maladjusted anti-social individuals” roiled the night air with their fights, obscenities, singing, and musical instruments, policemen did nothing to stop the disturbances. Patrolmen soon changed their ways and actually started arresting citizens who would not assist in the apprehension of law-breaking beatniks. With the increase in both harassment and rents, this coffee-house clientele began to drift away. Grant Avenue, once described as “an open-air mental hospital three blocks long”, was being vacated.