A weekly hop, skip and jump that turns into a stutter, stammer and fall, from barrespondent Drew.
One of the more obvious criteria for a good dive bar is that it can't be stuck right in the middle of a tourist area. No one wants to be drowning their sorrows at one in the afternoon and suddenly be hassled by a family of four from Lincoln wanting to know if you can show them where Alcatraz is. Of course, in this town, avoiding tourists is not really an option, but luckily there are places within the high traffic districts of San Francisco that serve as hiding places from out-of-towners.
For years we made the mistake of not going to North Beach unless we were part of a drunken bachelor party posse or if we had guests in town (notice that if they're with us, they're 'guests' but if they're strangers they're 'filthy tourists'). We've come to realize, however, that we were needlessly cutting ourselves off from one of the most fun, diverse and interesting neighborhoods in the entire city. Sure it's great for tourists and drunken strip club hopping, but there's oh-so-much more than that along Columbus Avenue.
Spec's off Columbus has more history per square inch than most museums. It seems like every whisky soaked square millimeter of this joint has some sort of interesting story behind it. The floor is uneven, the chairs are rickety and just about everything in the place is either covered in dust or looks like someone 'whittled' on it for a year or two or ten.
Upon first entering Spec's, your eyes are immediately drawn to the model airplanes, pictures of ships, Navy memorabilia hanging from the ceiling and walls, the old signs and various other nic-nacs that look like they've been there for sixty years or so. Don't worry about roaming the place and looking around. Spec's has never been about rushing you out the door and I can't imagine they'd start to get impatient now.
Once you make your way to the bar, keep it simple. Don't bother asking for drink specials or if the bartender knows what's in a 'Kir Mojito'. He doesn't, and even if he did, he wouldn't make it here and shouldn't. Stick to simple stuff like whisky and bottles of beer. If you want to get fancy, get a pitcher of Anchor Steam or something. Bartenders are gruff but loveable at Spec's, so be friendly but don't waste his/her time.
So don't wait for 'guests' to force you into North Beach, go there willingly and enjoy a taste of what turned it into a tourist hotspot to begin with.