If you’re walking in San Francisco, more or less in the Union Square area, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll walk past Burritt Street, just off Bush Street, and if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see this plaque:
This is a real plaque commemorating a fictional murder that takes place in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Is it the only plaque of its kind in the world? I assume not, though I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of another. (Actually since I wrote the above, well-wishers have made me aware of a plaque to Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street).
Now, not so very far from Burritt Street (inside The Mystic Hotel – yes, it’s really called that) you’ll find the Burritt Room and Tavern, which claims to be “heavily influenced by film noir.”
I’m not sure that Dashiell Hammett or any of his characters would have had much time for the Burritt Room’s craft cocktail menu, and gawd knows what he’d have made of the cocktail dedicated to Lemmy of Motorhead, the Ace of Spades: “Jack Daniel's Old No. 7, Smith + Cross, Wormwood, Complimentary Cigar Bitters .” Nah, I don’t know what “complimentary cigar bitters” are either and I wasn’t motivated to find out.
Anyway, one of my companions had something called Snake Eyes “Gin, Pear Liqueur, Cactus Syrup, Absinthe, Lemon, Seltzer” (that's it on the left, below) which was declared to be a girly drink, without any bang for your buck whatsoever. It was a “girl” who said this. But the martini was perfectly serviceable.
And you know me, whenever I wander the streets of San Francisco, even when not slightly bagged, I always seem to see a thousand and one martini signs. This one, I think is, possibly the least promising I’ve ever seen:
This one is certainly among the best I’ve ever seen, although the place is a dive (in a good way) and I dare anybody to go in there and ask to see their craft cocktail list.
Dashiell Hammett by all accounts was a bad drunk, insulting people, falling down in the gutter, and as far as I can see he wasn’t all that much of a walker (though there are certainly walking tours of Hammett’s San Francisco). However, I did just find a couple of anecdotes, one about drunkenness, one about walking, in Diane Johnson’s Dashiell Hammett: A Life.
According to Hannah Weinstein (a political activist, film producer, and one of Lillian Hellman’s best friends) Hammett was once in a restaurant with her in Chicago, and was giving the waiter a hard time. When the waiter asked what he wanted to order he replied, “How do we know till we’ve tried what you have?” And then he ordered everything on the menu. “I could have died of shame,” said Weinstein.
Dorothy Nebel (wife of the author Frederick Nebel) tells the story of Hammett and a group of his drinking pals in a bar in New York discussing the “the indifference of New Yorkers.” “Someone said he could probably walk down the street naked and no one would turn to look.” Well, Hammett didn’t try that, but he did reckon that nobody would notice if he walked down the street with an open umbrellas on what was then a beautiful clear evening.
Not the severest test, I’d have thought, but anyway he and his pal Fred walked from from the bar, up Lexington to 42nd Street over to Fifth and back to the bar “and not a single person turned to stare.”
Actually I’m not sure whether this is a mark of indifference or respect. The typical New Yorker would surely be thinking, “Hey pal if you want to walk under an umbrella when it’s not raining you go ahead, it’s nobody’s business but yours.” Though of course he wouldn’t say it aloud. In San Francisco it might be different, though I suppose the picture below actually shows a parasol.
Dashiell Hammett had a comparatively short career as a writer of fiction – five novels published between 1929 and 1934, although he wrote a lot of short stories that were repackaged in various forms, not least the Dell “map back” editions: nice pulp covers on the front and maps on the back so you could, if you chose, walk the route taken by Hammett’s characters. There’ll be plenty of places to stop for a drink, too.