San Francisco noir

Jul 06 2014, 15:26 IST
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SummaryFor almost a century, the US city has been linked with the enigmatic genre

into the Tenderloin, the notoriously seedy neighbourhood where Hammett lived and set many of his stories. Of all of old San Francisco, it may be the neighbourhood most intact. Demographics have changed, but its sense of character remains. We continued up through the Tenderloin, Herron pointing out 891 Post Street, where Hammett lived and wrote. But no location holds a more essential place than our next stop, Burritt Street, where, in The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spades partner, Miles Archer, is shot and killed by the books femme fatale, Brigid OShaughnessy. We descended on to Stockton Street. Herron had noted a door at the end of Burritt and said he had always wondered where it led. A half-block away was the newly re-branded Mystic Hotel at the tail end of a restoration. We headed up a flight of stairs and were ushered into the Burritt Room, a speakeasy-style bar fronting a tavern room. The bar wasnt open yet, but we were taken up a couple more flights, out an unmarked doorand into the back end of Burritt. One mystery explained. The Burritt Room is just one of seemingly endless spots around town housed in former speakeasy spaces. Perhaps no spot better celebrates the San Francisco-noir association better than a speakeasy-style bar secreted within another speakeasy-style barand in the Tenderloin no less. Heading down Jones Street towards OFarrell, I passed a pane of frosted glass labelled the Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency. With a password, I gained entry to Bourbon and Branch, a dimly-lit and bustling cocktail bar. After a quick right through a fake wall, I headed into Wilson and Wilson, a love letter to noir, Prohibition-era drinking and, as the name indicates, the detective trade.

The night before, I found myself back at 891 Post Street, Hammetts home. I was led into the building by Eddie Muller, a San Francisco native, author and self-proclaimed noirchaeologist. We entered apartment 40. The apartment has been restored to be a simulacrum of what it might have looked like in the 1920s, outfitted with all things vintage: a gramophone, a frosted-glass door and a desk topped with a typewriter.

As the light began to fade, Muller said he believed that the appeal of noir can be summed up in his three-word description of the genre: suffering with style. Part of Mullers take on noir is that, in the end, its not about solving mysteries.

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