A tear in the fabric of classic San Francisco has opened with the death of Richard “Specs” Simmons, the owner of Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe in North Beach. Simmons, who was 86, had battled Parkinson’s for years, and passed away Wednesday morning.
The bar, often classified as a dive, is nestled into a cranny in an a small alley off Columbus Avenue, flanked by fellow North Beach institution Tosca Cafe. Simmons purchased the bar in 1968, and turned it into a gathering place for poets, Berkeley professors, locals, writers, and anyone with a zest for conversation and offbeat company.
Some of the best quirks of Specs’ include: a box of postcards that lives behind the bar, filled with messages sent to the bar itself from patrons traveling and living across the world; a huge wheel of edam cheese which the bartender carves off and serves alongside saltines as the only food item on offer; knick-knacks and artifacts adorning the wall, like a mummified walrus penis.
Simmons himself was often seated at the bar, wearing the coke-bottle-thick eyeglasses that earned him his nickname, chatting with friends and regulars. Here, unionized bartenders receive benefits and retirement, service can be denied to anyone for any reason, and bartenders hand out business cards to let overeager patrons know to back off whomever they’re chatting up.
In a remembrance from the Chron, Simmons’ daughter Elly Simmons said, “My father believed that a bar was a place where people could come and tell each other stories about their own lives. It was all about the human connection.”
Specs’ is one of the bars that people imagine when they think of San Francisco — quirky, welcoming to everyone of all stripes, and filled with the mystique of the sixties. Richard Simmons was one of those who have made San Francisco special to thousands of people over the years. A memorial service will be planned.