Wining, Dining and Sight-seeing: Suggested Stops
“Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.”
— Mark Twain
The Bradbury Building, the Varg Veum statue and BILIPO
The Maltese Falcon Plaque (SPOILER ALERT!) and Raymond Chandler Square
- The Esotouric Raymond Chandler Bus Tour
Los Angeles, California
It may be referred to as the “In a Lonely Place” tour on Esotouric’s website, but you won’t be lonely when you’re touring the mean streets of the City of Angels in an air-conditioned bus crammed full of Chandlerphiles. It’s a two-hour multi-media phantasmagoria of facts and tall tales, punctuated by by frequent stops to explore the places where Marlowe skulked and Chandler drank, and vice versa, and get the skinny on one of crime fiction’s most influential and greatest writers, hosted by Chandler fanatics Kim Cooper (author of The Kept Girl and discoverer of Chandler’s “Lost Libretto”) and her husband Richard Schave.
- Raymond Chandler Square
In 1994, the City of Los Angeles finally got around to honoring one of their most respected writers. The corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga in Hollywood is now, officially, the Raymond Chandler Square. The square is located at the the site of Philip Marlowe‘s fictitious Hollywood office on the 6th floor of the Cahuenga Building (actually the Pacific Security Bank building). Granted, Marlowe did little more than bitch about the place when he was there, spending most of his time there pondering the decline of Western Civilization, shuffling his mail from the door slot to the trash, doing battle with assorted house flies, taking an occasional nip from the office bottle, listening to the phone not ring and waiting for trouble to come walking in the door. But still, it’s about the best place I can think of to start the P.I. world tour…
NOTE: Unfortunately the placard designating the area is occasionally missing in action. One rumour is that it was removed by the city after sharp-eyed Chandler fans pointed out that Philip Marlowe’s name boasts an extra “L.” Other rumours suggest that the sign has been repeatedly been stolen. But right now it’s back for all to see, misspelling and all…
- The Bradbury Building
304 South Broadway
Los Angeles, California
This atmospheric office building in downtown LA, full of ornate metalwork is “a marvel of Gay Nineties style and engineering…twin open-grille elevators (and) an impressive vaulted roof wih a central skylight,” according to Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, by Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver. It’s actually described by Chandler in his novel, The High Window, although he calls it “The Belfont Building.” It’s got a truly amazing interior, all lights and shadows and grillwork, sorta instant noir, and a totally bland exterior. Chandler described its exterior as “eight stories of nothing in particular.” Okay, it’s only five stories, but Chandler must have been on to something — it’s since been used as a setting, usually for private eye offices, in such classic and not-so-classic hard-boiled and noir detective flicks as D.O.A., Marlowe, Chinatown and Blade Runner, and TV shows, including City of Angels, Banyon and Bosch. John Shannon’s private eye Jack Liffey drops by there often, and Max Allan Collins’ Nate Heller has the L.A. branch of his A-1 Detective Agency operating out of it in Angel in Black. It’s even been featured in comic books, such as the revival of DC’s Human Target.
NOTE: For years it was widely believed that Double Indemnity had also been shot there, but sadly that claim has been discredited (although the film does boast Raymond Chandler in a cameo).
- The Don Harron Dashiell Hammett Tour
San Francisco, California
If you’re going to San Francisco, you won’t need flowers in your hair, but a good pair gumshoes would be ideal for this walking tour. Hosted by the always amiable Big Don Herron (always nattily attired in the obligatory fedora and trenchcoat) for over forty years, it’s an easy and absolutely fascinating three-hour tour for the faithful up and down the streets of San Francisco, tracing the life and times of Hammett, Sam Spade, The Continental Op and The City itself, crammed with trivia, gossip and asides. Oh, sure, you could buy the Guidebook (In fact, do! It’s great!) but wouldn’t you rather take the actual tour? It’s pretty much mecca for any true hard-boiled crime buff. The stuff that dreams are made of.
- John’s Grill
63 Ellis Street
San Francisco, California
In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade asks the waiter at John’s Grill (at Powell and Ellis) to “hurry his order of chops, baked potato and sliced tomatoes’ because he’s in a rush to go rescue Brigid O’Shaughnessy. The restaurant’s still there, and you can now order Sam Spade Chops and a Bloody Brigid (a little too sweet for a drink named after such a poisonous dame) to drink in the Brigid O’Shaughnessy Room. The place is decorated with photographs and memorabilia of private eyes, cops, mystery writers and, of course, Dashiell Hammett. As an added bonus, the actual Maltese Falcon, the prop used in the Huston film, was known to be once on display for a while in 1995 (although if it was the real one is still open to debate).
But Black Bird or not, take a stroll when you’re finished your meal. You’re half a block from the cable cars, two blocks downhill from Union Square, and around the block from Market Street. (A half block up Powell is a saloon, whose basement is an actual Prohibition-era speakeasy). Wander over to Burritt Street and read the plaque: “On approximately this spot, Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O’Shaugnessy.” And don’t forget The Flood Building on Market Street, where Spade had his office. In fact, all these things are part of Don Herron’s Dashiell Hammett Tour (above).
- The Continental Trust Building
(now known as One Calvert Plaza)
201 East Baltimore Street
At the south-east corner of Calvert Street
Those familiar with Hammett‘s life know that the Baltimore branch of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, where he worked as an operative from 1915 to 1918, was located in the Continental Trust Building, and almost certainly served as the inspiration for the name of his fictional Continental Detective Agency. Not to mention the nameless detective who worked there, best known as The Continental Op.
In fact, on the Baltimore Street side of the building, there are two large ornamental eagles or perhaps falcons. Walking in Baltimore: An Intimate Guide to the Old City, suggests: “Look over the door and first floor windows at ornamental black birds. Some local readers believe that those birds inspired Hammett’s famous “black bird” of The Maltese Falcon.” Alas, while the birds may have once been black, they are now finished in gold. There are also smaller birds mid-way up the banking hall windows, on both the Baltimore and Calvert street sides. Since the mid-80s, The Continental Trust Building has been known as One Calvert Plaza.
(Thanks to William Robb for the heads-up on this one)
NEW YORK CITY
New York City
Private eye buffs Bill and Karen Palmer’s New York restaurant was the Big Apple hangout of choice of several P.I. writers and, sometimes, their ficticious detectives, especially Rob Randisi’s Miles Jacoby. I believe the PWA was founded at a meeting held there. Alas, from latest reports, the restaurant (wherever it was) has closed for good, and Karen and Bill have moved on to running Bogie’s Mystery Tours.
- Sherlock Holmes Residence
221B Baker Street
Whether he should be considered a private eye or not is moot. Any fan of the mystery genre owes the old cokehound a debt of gratitude. It’s been suggested that 221B Baker Street is the most famous address in the world.
- The Varg Veum Statue and the Strand Hotel
Strandkaien 2-4, N-5013
Varg Veum, the private eye hero of Gunnar Staalesen’s immensely popular P.I. novels, is immortalized in bronze on the sidewalk in front of the Strand hotel in Bergen, Norway, where the detective’s office is. In fact, the hotel bar has had its own Veum section display, full of various memorabilia not just from the novels but also props and stills from the popular films and TV show. And of course the bar serves Veum’s favourite drink: Simmers Taffel aquavit.
- The Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières (BiLiPo)
48-50 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Tel: 33-1 42 34 93 00
Just in case you miss the point, a life-sized cutout of a man in a fedora with a pistol in his hand points the way to the entrance to the Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières (Library of Crime Literature). Tucked away behind a firehouse in the Latin Quarter, the BiLiPo, as it’s known, houses about 80,000 novels, 7,000 documents, 3,500 reference books, 3,000 press reviews, 2,000 comics, 50 subscriptions, movie posters, manuscripts, pulp magazines, clippings, essays, studies and clipping from all over the world all related to suspense, crime, murder or detection. It’s arguably the greatest collections of crime fiction in the world. There’s a reading room, open to all, where fans can sit and read to their heart’s content. Mostly in French, of course, but there’s more than enough English here to while away more than a month of rainy afternoons. The staff are all knowledgable and eager to chat, and admission is free. Is this cool or what? For more info, go to “Old Tricks, Fresh Goose Bumps”, a 2006 article by Julie Pecheur that originally appeared in The Paris Times.