This block of Broadway in North Beach is well known to any Bay Area punk or metalhead who grew up here in the 80s. It housed the Mabuhay Gardens, the On Broadway, and The Stone—clubs that were integral parts of these music scenes. My first boyfriend, Chris, was a couple years older than me and had been going to shows for a while. One of my first adolescent skirmishes for independence was about being able to stay out late enough to see bands. Fortunately for my social life, the Rock On Broadway had “curfew shows” which ended before 11 p.m. for those of us in the under-18 crowd (or with hard-ass parents). Mom finally acquiesced to letting me go to curfew shows provided that Chris brought me home. Most of the time he did, but occasionally the shows didn’t end on time. Those nights I would head home by myself, walking as quickly as I could through Chinatown’s deserted streets and into the more familiar but equally deserted streets of Russian Hill. I never had any close-calls but I was always leery of being out late and alone.
But the occasional nervous power walk home was worth it for the new social experiences. Chris was friends with they guys in Desecration and they got opening slots for a lot of gigs. We’d get there early and Chris would help roadie for them if needed and then we’d hang out in the alley behind the On Broadway. Or you could spend time at Broadway Rocks, the music merchandise store on the corner with tons of concert action photos plastering the wall. (The space is now occupied by a standard-issue weed paraphernalia shop.) This store inadvertently helped me get interested in international travel too. A German metalhead gal, visiting the U.S. for the first time, zeroed in on the Broadway scene and soon became friends with one of the guys who ran the store. This guy was friends with someone I knew and he introduced us once he found out that she had a nanny job around the corner from where I lived. We became good friends and I visited her in Germany when she moved back a couple years later—my first trip out of the country that effectively infected me with the travel bug.
Eventually I was able to go to the non-curfew shows at The Stone. While I missed out on seeing the Big Three of Thrash here, it was not uncommon to see members of Metallica hanging out by the bar during the show. One night a friend and I planned to go see Death Angel. I was just shy of 18 and had planned to try and get in with the ID of an older acquaintance who also had long reddish hair. But my friend who actually WAS over 18 showed up without her ID. Rather than ditch my friend, we abandoned our original plan and loitered outside for a while, which led to some unexpected adventures.
By the time the 90s arrived, the street’s vibrant metal scene had slowed down considerably. There were still occasional shows, but nothing like the frequency and intensity of years before. A drinking establishment called Crowbar opened up on the space opposite Broadway Rocks and since I was now of a legal US drinking age I’d sometimes go there with friends. The vibe was as close to a “Metal” bar as you’d get in San Francisco—though a far cry from the places that I’d visited in Germany. There were only a handful of bars in the city where you’d find Slayer’s Reign in Blood and similar musical fare in the jukebox offerings. There was a brief resurgence of metal shows in North Beach in the late 90s at Club Cocodrie (formerly Morty’s) but that went dark after a few years.
There’s not much metal happening on the 400 block of Broadway these days. The Stone is Yet Another Strip Club. The Rock On Broadway and the Fab Mab are cater to DJ nights and private parties, with a token commemorative street sign for “The Pope of Punk,” Dirk Dirksen on the alley outside. The Crowbar closed in the mid-2000s, though its sign still remains outside the still-vacant space. But at least those of us who were lucky enough to experience the shows can still leaf through the flyers that used to plaster our walls and re-live some of the memories.