James Bond’s most impressive talent is not his prowess as a spy or his skills of seduction. It’s his ability to always get exactly what he wants at the bar. In the 1954 novel Live and Let Die he orders a round of Old Fashioneds while on a train to meet Felix Leiter, his CIA opposite number. Not only does the buffet car make them for Bond, they even have his preferred brand of bourbon, Old Grand-Dad. You try pulling that sort of thing on the Acela from Penn Station to DC. ‘Sorry Solitaire, they wouldn’t do us a cocktail, but I’ve got a cup of Lipton’s and a bag of pretzels.’
We’d all like to drink like Bond but, lacking his miraculous powers, we need to be in the right sort of bar to do it. If the latest Bond movie, No Time to Die, has whetted your thirst, here are the London venues where you can drink like 007.
‘Tea, please, Hammond.’ He turned to Bond. ‘Or rather have a whisky and soda?’ ‘Whisky, please, sir,’ said Bond with infinite relief.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
When we think of Bond, we naturally think of the Martini. But in Ian Fleming’s novels he drinks far more whisky than gin. At the beginning of Thunderball we find Bond suffering the effects of 11 whisky and sodas consumed the night before, a hangover so severe that M takes him off active duty and sends him to an MI6 spa to calm down. In the 2012 film Skyfall we learn that Daniel Craig’s Bond prefers Macallan when villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) offers him a rare 50-year-old expression distilled in 1962.
You’ll struggle to find that particular bottling open in London but the bar at the Connaught has a fabulous whisky list and suitably opulent surroundings in which to live out your Bond fantasies. Their offering includes a rare 1948 vintage of Macallan bottled at 51 years old and available by the shot for £1,248. Makes you wonder if Bond has to get his receipts signed off by M at the end of the month. Other historically noteworthy whiskies on the back-bar include 1960s Bowmore from Islay and a few very old Springbanks from Campbeltown — rare, venerable things that speak to another era of whisky-making. This is one of the London bar scene’s true institutions and well worth a visit for a few drams even if your expense account doesn’t stretch as far as 007’s.
‘If that’s all there is to it, I’ll buy you lunch. It’s my turn and I feel like celebrating…I’ll take you to Scott’s and we’ll have some of their dressed crab and a pint of black velvet.’
Diamonds are Forever
Bond’s taste in Champagne has changed over the years. Fleming’s 007 swears by Taittinger, while more recent screen incarnations drink — and indeed endorse — the much fuller-bodied Bollinger. In the above quote he is describing Black Velvet, a 50/50 mix of Guinness and Champagne that is indeed a great accompaniment to seafood and a first-class way to delay your hangover until the afternoon.
To this day, Scott’s remains a great spot for getting dressed up and eating crustaceans. They offer a solid selection of Champagne, but if you’re splashing out on vintage Bollinger it’s probably best to take it straight. Obviously Bond would be able to get some preferred vintage of his from the 1960s with no trouble but the 2008 La Grande Année is available by the bottle and is absolutely superb. If you want to drink Black Velvet like the Bond of the 1950s then Sweetings, a City of London day-drinking mainstay, pours a particularly good one. Just post up at the bar, order more oysters than you can comfortably eat, and enjoy the stout-y goodness.
It’s tempting to suggest a few more modest bars that offer great value in sparkling wines from small growers and beyond the Champagne region. But then that isn’t what drinking like Bond is all about. It’s about big names, conspicuous consumption, strange class fantasies and damaging your overdraft in a rented dinner jacket.
‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well made.’
Any of the venues above will be able to make you a good Martini — a great one, even — but for the absolute best in town you have to go to Dukes Hotel in St James’s. The Martinis here are neither shaken nor stirred: they are free-poured straight from the freezer into icy glasses.
Head bartender Alessandro Palazzi has spent years tweaking and refining a long list of variations on the classic formula. The Kissy Suzuki contains bitter and aromatic Clementi China Antico Elixir, Ki No Bi gin, and a spritz of bespoke yuzu distillate. The Tiger Tanaka is based on Snow Queen vodka spiked with ginger and Grand Marnier. And the iconic Vesper is if anything better than Bond’s original recipe, made with No. 3 gin, Potocki potato vodka and a generous curl of Amalfi lemon zest.
No night at Dukes would be complete without a Martini but they’re by no means the only things on offer. The bartenders are absolute professionals and will provide an excellent rendition of whatever cocktail you have in mind. The hospitality, the décor, the ease of everything at Dukes is all perfectly geared to make you feel relaxed and cool. Fleming himself was a regular and Alessandro Palazzi delights in sharing snippets of trivia about Fleming’s life and work as he mixes drinks. It’s the perfect place to drink like James Bond.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2021 World edition.