Seen In San Francisco: Disputed Ode to Drunkenness Carved Into City Sidewalk

Categories: SF Oddities

Joe Eskenazi
'I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy' reads the pavement.
​The stretch of Steiner Street along Alamo Square with the Painted Ladies houses on its east side could be the most photographed section of this city -- or any city. Most camera-wielding visitors are not looking at the pavement, however.

If they were, they'd find this happy quote of disputed origin: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

While no one knows for certain who coined this phrase -- and we'll get to that momentarily -- it is indisputably among the wittiest comebacks for any tippler forced to defend his or her behavior. It's much more eloquent, say, than replying "At least I'm something" when told "You're drunk!"

Anyhow, this quote is often attributed to Dorothy Parker -- and while it certainly sounds like something she would say, there's no evidence whatsoever to back up that contention. Other than lots of bottles and no frontal lobotomy for Parker. But that's not what we had in mind.

The most popular attribution is to singer (and Bay Area resident) Tom Waits, who indisputably croaked the above quote on the Fernwood2Night TV show in 1977. In fact, here he is (quote at 4:07 or so):

Of course, earlier versions of this quote are attributed to others -- including, naturally, Steve Allen (there's a reason The Simpsons had Krusty once utter the line "If this isn't Steve Allen you're stealing my bit."). Many of you may be familiar with the phrase via the eponymous Dr. Rock song -- especially if you're aficionados of the Dr. Demento radio program.

The real author, like the lady or gent who carved up Steiner Street, may never be known. Waits later said the quote that seems destined to be attached to his name was something he originally read on a men's room wall.

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