Just got back last night from a vacation in California, the last half of it in San Francisco. While my wife attended an academic conference, I made a four or five block pilgrimage to the corner of Post and Hyde streets to view the apartment where Dashiell Hammett lived from 1926 to 1929, where he wrote most of his short stories and his first three novels, the last being one of my very best favorites, The Maltese Falcon. (He lived in the top floor corner unit in the photo provided.)

His apartment is, today, roughly on the border between the swanky Nob Hill district and the ghetto-ish Tenderloin district. It was not a comfortable environment for a guy like me, even in daytime, with lots of homeless nearby and plenty of panhandlers and all eyes watching my every move, wondering what I was doing there.

The same day that I snapped the photo I stumbled that evening upon John's Grill, which is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco still in its original location. It's next door to where Hammett used to work for Pinkerton's detective agency (when his health allowed) and is described in The Maltese Falcon--Sam Spade has a meal there--and known to have been a hang-out for Hammett.

The ground floor is preserved much as it was when the joint opened in 1908 with the bar where Hammett sat and developed his alcoholism and oak paneling everywhere, darkened almost to black by age and cigarette smoke. (It was odd not seeing the tobacco curling in the air given the city's new smoking ban.) The walls are stuffed with photos of olden day, local celebrities, but by sheer happenstance my wife and I got seated beside the photo of Hammett himself, looking very much The Thin Man. Although the restaurant was packed, I counted only one patron who recognized the photo besides myself. I read later that the second floor of the restaurant is pure kitsch, with a fake Maltese Falcon as its centerpiece, and I'm glad I never went up there.

We stayed four nights in the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental hotel at the top of Nob Hill, stayed in one of the prettiest hotel rooms I've ever been in, with a marbled bathroom in the Art Deco style and sunny/gold wallpaper and an awesome view of the city. It's where the Falcon's femme fatale, Bridgett O'Shaughnessy, first stayed, according to most sources. Coincidence again. My wife made the reservations, I swear!

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