The Tardy Times


       The Bernal Journalist

By Jerry Schimmel

THE RIBELTAD was the place to go in Bernal Heights during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
   Peter Cancilla was the latest heir to Cancilla’s Grocery, which he managed  at the corner of Bessie and Folsom streets (3216 Folsom St.) Around 1968 he acquired the early 20th century building across Folsom at 300 Precita Ave. It housed a moribund pinball machine company on the ground floor with apartments upstairs. He converted the pinball shop into a bar with a curious name.
   The Colombian motto is Libertad y Orden (Liberty and Order). Somehow the Japanese seamstress came up with "Ribeltad Vorden."
   The garbled phrase inspired, probably in a mindwarp session, the name of the new watering hole.  (Doyle McGowan, after tracking it down through a circuitous trail of ownerships, now has the framed banner on his apartment wall.)

PETER was a good Catholic boy who got caught in San Francisco’s Summer of Love movement. From what I heard, he learned to smoke pot and probably even dropped a few tabs of acid. (This part of the story is vehemently denied by his daughter.)
    By 1970 Peter and his wife had separated. His life was falling apart. It didn’t take long before the bar’s crowd got rough, and a biker gang dominated the clientele. As the story goes, one day there was a hell of a fist fight. One of the toughs was tossed through a plate glass window. After that the police began making regular stops.
     Peter sold out to Doyle in 1971.

DOYLE McGOWAN had a wild youth in L.A. resulting in time behind bars, a fact of which he is not proud. By the time we knew him, he was established locally in neighborhood real estate and was becoming involved with the Bernal Heights Association.
    My recollection is he was well-known and admired by everyone in the BHA, though Doyle thinks I’m exaggerating. For sure, some of his former tenants would disagree. He wants to be sure I’m clear on that point. When the association sponsored the hilltop park-naming party in 1973, Doyle generously opened the Ribeltad for its gathering. He also let photographer Mark Green run the Nanny Goat Hill Gallery rent-free in a tiny one room building behind the the bar (3205 Folsom St.) Doyle sold out in 1974.

AS DOYLE will readily admit, he bought a truckload of problems. Drugs were being sold surreptitiously and sometimes openly. (I remember being approached in the men’s room by a kid offering a small baggie of unidentified green somethings.) The cops were eyeing Doyle because of his past. Doyle says when I was BHA president, I went downtown and spoke up for him at a court hearing of some kind, though I don’t remember it.
    However, as he told me, there are certain perks to being a saloonkeeper. He quickly learned it was a position that carries a kind of social magnetism. One customer out of the blue brought Doyle a gift of a rug and large pillows to fill his tiny rooms above the bar, just for the hell of it, no strings attached. A bigger surprise was a few nights later when the same fellow came upstairs arm-in-arm with two good-looking women, one a dancer who proceeded to perform on the spot. The other seduced him for the rest of the night. Not a bad life, Doyle.

A FEW of Doyle’s friends could be worse than enemies. He came to the Ribeltad one evening with a new lady intent on impressing her with his proprietorship of a popular and colorful bar. In the middle of a round of introductions, another compatriot, Roberto Gonzales, set off a string of firecrackers in the crowded room just behind Doyle and his escort - to the accompaniment of ribald laughter. Doyle didn’t say what happened next.

BOB GETTLE was bartender and manager for the RV. One of Bob’s peccadilloes was flirting with women visitors as customers furiously gesticulated at empty glasses. Gettle was outside one night, talking to his pals. Doyle was standing inside at the cash register when he noticed a wisp of plaster dust puff out of the opposite wall. Afterward he found a small hole he hadn’t seen before. He thought it was just the old structure deteriorating in its peculiar way, slowly falling apart. It turned out to be a bullet hole. Gettle had been examining a gun when it went off. The slug plowed through the building’s side, luckily without hitting anyone.

ONE OF DOYLE'S biggest headaches was Lorraine Ammenti, who had just separated from her husband, Armando. Lorraine and Armando were well-known in Bernal Heights not only for their constructive activism and generosity but also for blazing tempers and monumental public quarrels. Lorraine was an especially attractive woman with an outwardly pleasant, very intelligent and seductive manner (especially with men). She cornered me a couple of times away from my wife. Having witnessed her donnybrooks with Armando, I kept my distance.

WHEN DOYLE came to the RV, Lorraine was already living on the second floor right over the bar with three and sometimes four German shepherd dogs, an inheritance from Cancilla. She ran Dog Patrol, a rental canine security service. I remember that the beasts used to defecate on the roof of 3205 Folsom St. next door.. She would let them out the back door onto the back stairs, where they had easy access to the top of the adjoining building. 
     The RV often had loud evening entertainment, making sleep difficult for Lorraine. Her method of handling the noise was to go out the back and downstairs to the main electrical box and switch off the power to the bar, lights, sound, everything. Then she would perch on the steps with her dogs and a shotgun and wait for someone to come turn them back on.

LORRAINE was tight with a group of local cops who would come sit at the RV in plain clothes, making it a point to have handcuffs dangle from their belts in full view of the patrons. This made a few habitués suddenly remember overdue appointments, preferably across town. It was another way of harassing Doyle and his bartender, he felt. He was already paranoid enough with uniformed officers dropping by to see if there were any drug dealers around.

ON ONE occasion Lorraine bashed Gettle over the head with a glass beer pitcher, not seriously enough to get him to the emergency room, but enough for a good headache. It seems that she had been repeatedly demanding part or all of Gettle’s bar manager job from Gettle and not getting it. To complicate matters the two had once been an item. She must have known about Gettle’s courtesies to the women customers – and Gettle should have known better than to dally about with Lorraine nearby. So her reasons for denting his cranium were probably double-barreled.
    At first Gettle didn’t want to file assault charges against Lorraine, but Doyle convinced him that this was the chance to get her out of the building. Doyle had been longing to have her go because of the dogs and general nuisance. So Bob told her if she didn’t leave 302 Precita, he would file charges. It was her choice, he said.
    The day she moved Armando was sitting at the bar. Looking up, he saw water coming through the ceiling.  Doyle found rags had stopped up the sinks and bathtub, and the taps were open.

NOT LONG after the water episode, Doyle gave up the Ribeltad and its can of worms.  Peter, Bob and Lorraine have gone to join the invisible choir. The Ribeltad Vorden became the Taste of Honey for awhile, then a succession of restaurants. Today it's the moderately upscale Cafe Cozzolino in a neighborhood of moderately upscale newcomers.
   Doyle morphed into a property manager, sitting on a string of Bernal Heights properties the value of which can only be guessed. Now and then you find him puttering around his buildings near Cancilla’s Market - when he isn’t out entertaining lady friends or at a Wednesday poker game. In my book Doyle proves that men with a troubled youth can turn themselves around and do better than the majority of us who have never been arrested. And his daughter has graduated from Colgate University and applied for graduate school. Not many of us could beat what he’s done against odds like that. Liberty and order! Ribeltad Vorden!

Jerry Schimmel, a local historian and a retired social worker, has lived for many years on Bernal Hill.


Website Builder