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Storied: San Francisco

Nov 21, 2023

Part 4 starts off with me and Joanna doing the math trying to figure out how long she's worked at Vesuvio. Turns out it's right around 20 years.

She started out as a waitress. The woman who was supposed to train her ended up not showing up that day, and Joanna really didn’t know what she was doing. But she winged it. A customer saw her inexperience and helped her out with some sage advice.

The conversation moves on to cover many of the ins and outs of serving vs. bartending. She says that, back in the day, yelling matches happened at Vesuvio sometimes, but that it's much mellower these days.

Then we get to the pandemic and their eventual closure. Vesuvio was Joanna’s only job at the time, one that had her working five days a week. She says that many regulars, folks who live alone, weren’t sure what to do when the bar had to shut down. Like many of us, they thought it would be only a week.

So Joanna borrowed her parents’ car and drove up to Cloverdale to spend what she figured would be a short time with friends. She ended up staying there for four months.

Vesuvio reopened in late 2020, but closed again in December after a positive case from one of its staff. In January 2021, they opened for good. And when they did, Joanna says it was like starting over.

Now we get around to chatting about Wacky Wednesdays, the music shows in Kerouac Alley which effectively (and finally) prompted us to do an episode on one of our favorite spots in The City.

Joanna gives context to the situation that inspired her to create the music events. Bars weren’t busy. Things were weird. Everyone felt anxious. “Let’s do something fun,” she thought.

She had run an art fair in the alley pre-pandemic, for which she scheduled bands and vendors. She used that idea as a base for what became Wacky Wednesdays. She asked friends's bands to play. They said yes. She approached the bar about paying bands. They said yes. (These days, Vesuvio has sponsors for the events.)

In 2023, there were 13 shows and 29 bands. They're currently on hiatus for the winter, but will start up again next June.

It turns out that Chad, a bartender at Vesuvio, as well as some others she knows, knew how to do sound. The shows would be free—no tickets—and bands are OK to cancel if need be.

The shows were a hit right away. In fact, someone is making a zine about them and they've gotten good press.

Joanna assures us that Wacky Wednesdays are coming back in the summer of 2024 and says she already has a wishlist of bands she'll try to book for the alley. For more info, follow Joanna or Vesuvio on Instagram. Or just do yourself a favor and go meet a buddy for drink at the coolest bar in The City. Once they start again, calendars will appear at Vesuvio.

Photography by Michelle Kilfeather