Cities of Noir: San Francisco

August 24, 2018

 

There is no secret that I am a Film Noir aficionado. I recently was looking in my old photographs (yes, printed photographs, not just on my phone) and found a photo of my stay in San Francisco back in 2009. I was able to acquire a room at the Union Square Hotel, but not just any room, a suite dedicated to the author, Dashiell Hammett of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man fame. If you like to look up historical figures, authors, or celebrities on your travels, I recommend a trip up to San Francisco and a stay at the Union Square Hotel and the special author suite, if you can; however, you have to call up to get the price and reservation on the suite, the website won't tell you.

 

If you don't know the book, read it; one of the best in hard boiled detective fiction, the one that many are modeled after and where Humphrey Bogart brought the main character, Sam Spade, to real life on the big screen.

 

This visit to San Francisco was a way to get my juices flowing, my passions awoken, and my head straight as that past year was a tough one for me. Just walking the streets of San Francisco started to inspire me as you can still feel a 1920’s vibe inhabiting the art deco buildings and shadowed alleyways. It’s hard to tell sometimes if the book, The Maltese Falcon, is dedicated to the city or the city to the book. Just walking in the footsteps of Sam Spade can bring you to where the author, Dashiell Hammett lived while writing the novel, at 891 Post Street, and where his character, Sam Spade, might have lived as well.

A quick jaunt over to 63 Ellis Street, you find John’s Grill, where the most famous replica of the valued treasure everyone in the book wanted to get their hands on, the Maltese Falcon, exists (actually, if you wanted to get your grubby hands on the black bird, the original replica was stolen some years back). John's Grill opened in 1908 and was a common spot for Dashiell Hammett to dine at (and also Sam Spade). You can even order their preferred meaI: lamb chops, a baked potato, and sliced tomatoes for $28.95. And you can take home a souvenir glass if you order the "Bloody Brigid", basically a bloody mary based on the mysterious Brigid O'Shaughnessy from the book (The "bloody" reference doesn't necessarily mean it's a spoiler, or is it?).

Walk on over to the end of Dashiell Hammett Street (yes, the city named a street after him), cross Bush Street, turn left. The next alleyway is Burritt Street where Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer was caught of guard by a mysterious figure. A few blocks south another character, Joel Cairo, stayed at the Hotel Belvedere at 501 Geary Street, which is now The Marker Hotel but it has changed names many times so, if interested, Google first as the name may change again.

The city is littered with replicas of falcons. Just like in the book, there were three originals (props), auctioned of years ago. Some of the fakes have even been stolen, such an elusive prop that people must have. See how many you can find around the city if you like. For example, take a passage from the book like I have below and saunter down the concrete sidewalks and watch your step.


“Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab. San Francisco's night-fog, thin, clammy, and penetrant, blurred the street. A few yards from where Spade had dismissed the taxicab a small group of men stood looking up an alley. Two women stood with a man on the other side of Bush Street, looking at the alley. There were faces at windows.”

In the 1941 movie version of The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart, playing Sam Spade, says at the end of the movie:

 

"The stuff that dreams are made of."
 

Might be a little presumptuous to say a little black bird or the city of San Francisco itself is anything like a dream, but put a black and white filter over the city, let the fog drift in, you decide.

 

This edition of Cities of Noir: San Francisco, describes a fun little detour to explore a city in a unique way and getting lost in a murder mystery that you might have read on a recent plane flight. A way to find out what those dreams of yours are made of.

 

Doesn’t always have to be film noir, but visiting places that were the basis for some pretty famous books and movies can be fun.

 

Naming just a few to get you started: LA Confidential (Los Angeles), The Thin Man (New York), The DaVinci Code (Paris), The Untouchables (Chicago), The Shadow of the Wind (Barcelona), The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (Stockholm).

 

More about San Francisco:

The Dashiell Hammett suite at www.hotelunionsquare.com or call 415-969-2301

Grab a meal at www.johnsgrill.com

Stay at the Marker, www.jdvhotels.com

 

 

 



 

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