James Bond’s most impressive superpower 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, while on a train to meet his CIA opposite number Felix Leiter, he orders a round of Old Fashioneds. Not only does the buffet car make them for him, but they even have his preferred brand of Bourbon, Old Grandad. You try pulling that sort of thing on the LNER from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly. ‘Sorry Solitaire, they wouldn’t do us a cocktail but I’ve got a tin of strong lager and a cheese and pickle sandwich on the meal deal.’
We’d all like to drink like Bond, but lacking his miraculous powers, most of us need to be in the right sort of bar to do it. While you wait for No Time To Die to come out on April 3rd, here are some London venues where you can rock up and 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 if we take Fleming’s novels into account he drinks far more whisky than gin. At the beginning of Thunderball we find Bond suffering the effects of eleven 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 James Bond fantasies. Their offering includes a rare 1948 vintage of Macallan bottled at 51-years-old and available by the shot for £1,248. Sort of 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 Scotts’ 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, with Fleming’s 007 swears by Tattinger while more recent screen incarnations drink – and indeed endorse – the much fuller bodied Bollinger. In the above quote we see him describing the 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, Scotts remains a great spot for getting dressed up and eating crustaceans. They offer a solid selection of Champagne, but if you’re splashing out for 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 Grand Annee is available by the bottle and is absolutely superb. If you want to drink Black Velvet like the Bond of the 1950s then City day-drinking mainstay Sweetings 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.”
– Casino Royale
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. The Martinis here are neither shaken, nor stirred with spirits instead free-poured straight from the freezer into icy glasses. Head Bartender Allesandro Palazzi has spent years tweaking and refining a long list of variations on the classic formula, each one a clever allusion to the Bond mythos. 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 slice of Amalfi lemon zest.
Fleming himself was a regular and Palazzi delights in sharing snippets of trivia about his life and work as he mixes drinks. 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. In other words, it’s the perfect place to drink like James Bond.