Film Noir, the thrilling, chilling genre of the 40s, was one of Art Siemering’s loves. He spoke engagingly about how Film Noir and food inter-acted at the 1999 Oxford Food Symposium (look it up on Google). Art was a very special food writer and trend spotter as you’ll find in your searches.
He was a like an old-style newspaper man living 20+ years after the newsroom type had disappeared. Writing this piece I Googled him too – one site says there’s just one Art Siemering in all the USA. I believe that because I knew him.
In the Spring of ’99, Art and I – plus 1000+ others - were in Phoenix (Arizona) for a 4-5 day long IACP food conference. He, like me, shared a distaste for the identikit chain hotels, so we and a very few friends, stayed at the elegant downtown Hotel San Carlos (www.hotelsancarlos.com) just minutes walk from the leviathan conference centre.
These last 10 years we’ve termed hotels like the San Carlos ’boutique’ – truth be told, the San Carlos was already genuinely boutique in the 40s/50s when it was the hang-out and low key escape hole for big Hollywood names like Jean Harlow, Mae West, Clark Gable & Carole Lombard as an item, Bogart, Grant, Bergman, Marilyn Monroe (filming Bus Stop in ’56) and a good many more. Spencer Tracy was among them from whom I proudly take my middle name ‘Spencer’ – my Welsh grandmother’s choice as she admitted to having a crush on him.
Sitting at the San Carlos cocktail bar one afternoon in ’99 to review some difficult conference papers, in sidles Art Siemering in one of his trademark tweed jackets – even in April, Phoenix is warm. I’d ordered a Martini and it was short of the mark – this is America for goodness sake I’d have said. Art quietly reminded me we were in Arizona – that means the Margarita reigns. Tequila not being my first choice spirit, he introduced me to what I later learned was a most English of drinks – the Gimlet – a favourite of his when he sought out a ‘softer’ cocktail.
He ordered a Gimlet in Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (London) where we took him to the most traditional of English roast beef lunches – the bartender was genuinely thrilled with Art’s request having not served one in a good decade or more, he said.
I remember that first chilled Gimlet at the San Carlos like it was yesterday. Researching this piece and seeing old footage of the San Carlos gave me a pleasingly ‘Temps Perdu’ Moment. It was also one of those ‘urgent to get back there’ moments too. I hadn’t realised the thrilling impression the San Carlos had made on me until this week.
The Gimlet and Film Noir are linked - it was a cocktail of choice of Raymond Chandler and likely Dashiel Hammett. Film Noir, never big box office and the better for that, eased itself 10 or so years on into the cinema of suspense. We’re agreed I hope that Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) would be at the pinnacle of that genre. The opening 2’40″ minute sequence is downtown Phoenix with the Hotel San Carlos in dead centre frame.
So the Gimlet was originally 50:50 gin and lime cordial on the rocks. That’s it – a twist of fresh lime zest looks good too, when we can find good limes. Some barmen like to serve their Gimlets ’up’, but somehow the rocks and the soft rattle are part of the recipe.
I’ve read it originated in 1928 – amazingly, the very same year the Hotel San Carlos was opened. The ‘Gimlet’ name being taken from that carpenter’s tool which is used to bore a hole – maybe the drink is meant to do likewise into one’s sub-conscious.
Some writers I’ve read reckon the drink recipe, but not the name, came about far earlier - soon after Rose’s Lime Cordial had been launched in 1867 by the Scottish inventor, Lauchlan Rose, who immediately then sold it in bulk to the British Royal and Merchant Naval fleets. Crews would be served the lime cordial with gin to help ward off scurvy caused by vitamin C deficiency. The gin almost certainly be Plymouth as it’s a gin as liked by the Navy as were their daily tots of rum. The lime drink also gave the British their tag of ‘Limey’.
Nothing stays the same forever, so today I’d go for fresh squeezed limes and a splash of sugar syrup in place of the cordial, but now roughly with the 3:1 mix. I prefer Tanqueray for my gin and most premium brands for my vodka, from Ketel One to Grey Goose and Belvedere. Stay with the rocks and their rattle. I’ll ask Yves, the legendary head barman at Joe Allen what he thinks next time I call by – for me he’s quite one of London’s very best and has been at Joe Allen since the late 70s. He mixes without imposing, without show and with a quiet perfection, hence legendary (www.joeallen.co.uk – +20 7836 0651). Given its clientele over these years, Yves must have mixed drinks for 100′s upon 100′s of genuine celebrities – and he’ll not disclose a word, such is the man.
To Yves, a Gimlet is gin poured onto ice and lime cordial on top, with a squeeze of fresh lime too – then with an identical glass on top he gives it a Boston shake.
I started out to write about the Gimlet and have covered a lot more ground. Art was the original ‘Food Futurist’ and invited me and others onto the flight-deck of his imaginary starship where he encouraged and urged us to look and consider the food we’d be eating 50 years ahead.
We shared ideas, did-you-know’s and I’ve-just-seen’s for 10-12+ years - we sometimes disagreed. I filed regular copy from Europe for the early print version of The Food Channel (founded and financed by one Bob Noble) and I was listed as their London editor – all very dandy and yet I did nothing with it over here. More important to me was Art’s coaching in crafting a piece. He had his style and I had mine, but I’m certain I learned more from him than he ever did from me.
Imagine my delight to be contacted by Art’s daughter some weeks after this piece went live. I am grateful to Rebecca Siemering for providing this photo of a young Art. He’d been a restaurant reviewer for the Kansas City Star earlier in his life and the way of that job is you are always ingognito. It seems he held onto this and let his words speak for him.
I feel my piece is now complete and I have done the best I can for a good friend and mentor, Mr Art Siemering.
Art and I were also in Portland (Oregon) together en-conference and both fell for the place. Art was Kansas City born and bred. He confided that he was going to up sticks from KC with the family and move full time to Portland directly he could.
That time we’d found the old Benson Hotel – another that’s since undergone a massive refit and expensive make-over – no pictures sadly as they didn’t respond. Sometime soon, as I’ve pleaded before, hotel owners might figure that there’s a market for ‘shabby-chic’. London’s world famous Savoy Hotel, since the roof to cellars refit, is a shame of near criminal proportions – and I bet few will neither notice, nor care that the Savoy soul has been taken away in the builders’ skips.
Amazing to think Claude Monet painted the Thames from his bedroom window, John Wayne had the American Bar stock his special brand of Tequila and that Frank Sinatra would cross the road to the door in the wall RC church in Maiden Lane for early morning Mass, always leaving a £20 note in the plate as he left (Mary, my first office cleaner and a devout Catholic used to tell me that whenever ‘Mr’ Sinatra had been into ‘her’ church). Noel Coward holding court in the American Bar and just too many more to mention.
Art Siemering never realised his dream of a life in Portland and I’ve never forgotten mine which is why we’ve pitched my writing to The Oregonian, based in that old lumber town that today has more good food and gastronomy per capita than any other American city.
Memories are at the heart of food and drinks. Without what we see, eat and enjoy – that conviviality which good food around an exciting table provokes – the whole thing would be pointless and no more than fuel. Art, me and millions more would agree with that.
The vibrancy of the thought are at the root of Slow Food, just as they are to Blue Collar Gastronomy. I never got to share Blue Collar Gastronomy with Art – he would have loved it for sure.
Art Siemering -1941-2005 – RIP
Photos of Hotel San Carlos (Phoenix, Arizona – phone: 001 602 253 4121) from the hotel’s archivist, Augustina’ Porter, who I gratefully thank here for adding the extra magic to this piece and having patience with my repeated requests .
All other photos by Joy Davies, as usual (www.walkwithjoy.com)