Trieste Two

“Hey buddy,” he says each time I walk into the cafe.

The building is situated on the southwest corner of Dwight and San Pablo with a column supporting its front corner. It’s a rather awkward architectural design, because you have to avoid the column on your way in and out. Outside, on San Pablo, there is a bus stop directly adjacent to the building, and also the aforementioned sex shop and fancy restaurant. Across the street is Cafe Gratitude, or some other such liberally named establishment. On the opposing corner diagonally across the street is a liquor store, where Teddy usually takes an old shopping cart to buy ice by the twenty pound bag.

Cafe Trieste has several tables lining the San Pablo side of the building where the usual locals (a tall older man with a cap who looks like a disheveled construction worker) smoke and drink house wine. The tables are next to several bay windows which are often open in warm weather.

The cafe itself seats thirty people at most. On days when Papa Gianni is present signing opera, there is a standing-room-only crowd which spills out onto the sidewalk. People stand inside, some with cameras, listening to Papa Gianni (who must be at least 80) belt out traditional opera and watching him down cups of espresso. Whenever he’s there, I tend to walk in and order a quick vanilla latte to go before heading back to my apartment. Papa Gianni’s appearance always deters me from studying at the cafe.

I come to the cafe late at night to read and watch people sit around and drink wine. The cafe also has a delectable assortment of pastries and cakes. My favorite is the white chocolate cheesecake. When I started to run out of money and food, Sam would give me free coffee and food whenever I showed up. I’m still amazed at his generosity.


Once, I’d have walked out of my apartment, turned left down Bonar Street (don’t even think about making that joke again), turned right at Dwight Way, walked three blocks to San Pablo Avenue, and I’d be there – Cafe Trieste, on the west side of San Pablo. It’s a tiny place often filled with locals.

The original Cafe Trieste was opened in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco by Papa Gianni, an Italian immigrant who came to the US in the 1950s. It’s still open today, just one block up Columbus from the City Lights bookstore, on Vallejo Street. The Berkeley location has been open for a while; it is filled with photographs of famous people, as well as Papa Gianni himself – standing on a Navy ship in the 1940s, singing opera at the San Francisco location – some days there’s a low key jazz band or Papa Gianni himself, singing opera on special occasions.

Fridays through Mondays, Sam runs the counter. Sam is a Sri Lankan who goes to college in San Francisco. He’s been working here for seven years, and he’s the one I always greet. When I began frequenting Cafe Trieste in February, the locals were intimidating, crowding around the old-fashioned wooden counter, shooting the shit. Gradually, I made friends with Sam and Teddy, a Massachussetts transplant who also works at a fancy restaurant two doors down. In between Cafe Trieste and the fancy restaurant is a fancy sex shop, windows covered with white film for privacy. If you walk by and look inside, it looks like a sort of library, completely unlike a sex shop.

Every time I walk in, Sam grins from behind the counter and reaches over to shake my hand.