CLASSICS & COCKTAILS: Forgetting about it, kid, with “Chinatown”

You look like you need a drink.

Tonight, step into Los Angeles’ seedy underbelly—after a stiff drink, of course—with Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” at the Brattle Theatre. The 1974 neo-noir film features Jack Nicholson as private investigator J.J. Gittes who gets more than he bargains for when he spies on a client’s cheating spouse. Set in the 1930s (look for the subtle Seabiscuit reference), the film abounds with pinstripe suits, gilded cigarette cases, and political corruption. A California drought (sound familiar?) provides the backdrop for Gittes’ descent into the layered mystery where nothing is as it seems. The tightly woven plot and sharp dialogue won Robert Towne the 1975 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. “Chinatown” collected ten other Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.

Faye Dunaway takes on the femme fatale role as the enigmatic Evelyn Mulwray. With red lips, finger waves and more than a few secrets, she’s the chilly, moneyed counterpart to Nicholson’s wise-cracking sleuth. She’s also responsible for the only cocktail order in the movie. Even though Gittes has his own in-office liquor cabinet for rattled clients, it’s Mulwray who asks for a Tom Collins “with lime, not lemon, please.” A classic Tom Collins mixes gin with sugar, lemon, and club soda while its neighbor, the Gin Rickey, uses lime. No matter the citrus, both are refreshing tipples during a drought—or a hot Cambridge summer.

Cool off with your pre-movie cocktail at The Charles Hotel’s Noir Bar. Once you step inside the beaded curtain, you leave the Square behind for a seasonally changing menu of intriguing beverages. When you settle in at the dimly-lit lounge, you can practically hear Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score, complete with tension-inducing trumpet whines. Red lamps and shuttered windows create a seductive mood that’s perfect for an incognito meeting with your local P.I. Noir opens at 4:30 p.m. with food service starting at 5 p.m. Channel Mulwray and order a Tom Collins or check out the other classic cocktail offerings. “Chinatown” plays at the Brattle at 8:30 p.m. and you can pick up tickets online for a film you won’t forget.