London's Dukes Bar is a homage to Bond creator Ian Fleming
There are places in central London that look like a forgotten film set. If it weren’t for the new hackney taxis in the St James area, you could easily imagine James Bond writer Ian Fleming in the 1940s and 50s, lingering around gentlemen’s clubs and smoky bars, drinking in not only martinis but also inspiration for his stories.
One of these bars is located in the exclusive Dukes Hotel. It is hidden in a courtyard close to upscale St James Street. Fleming is said to have been inspired to write the famous Bond quotation “Shaken, but not stirred” in the bar that shares the same name as the hotel that opened in 1908.
The bar’s rooms are not very large. Illuminated baroque paintings and a few lampshades immerse them in a subdued light. Blue armchairs with heavy cord ends and dark brown wooden panelling add to the old fashioned air.
A postcard says: “If it can’t be fixed with sticky tape or a Martini, then it’s not worth fixing at all.”
Bartender Alesandro Palazzi is sure Martinis are a success thanks to Ian Fleming. The Italian has perfected the art of mixing the drink. He has created and dedicated 10 different Martinis to ten different Bond characters such as Miss Moneypenny, Ruby Windsor, Tiger Tanaka. Bond actor Sean Connery has drunk cocktails here and his successor Pierce Brosnan has been a guest as well.
“If you order a Martini, I will come to your table with a small trolley. For our guests it’s entertainment but at the same time it’s interaction as well," says the Italian. The trolley was his idea. Four glass bottles with high proof content and a bowl with lemons are on top. The rest is fresh from the freezer.
In dedication to Bond’s true love from Casino Royale, double agent Vesper Lynd, Dukes Bar created a special Martini that broke with conventional cocktail rules. “We are the first to neither shake nor stir a Martini,” says Palazzi as he takes a glass from the icebox. “We freeze the glass and the alcohol because Martini needs to be drunk very cold.”
He fills the glass with a few drops of Angostura bitters, then pours in vermouth, Polish vodka and 46 per cent gin.
“In the past, mixing gin and vodka was a frowned upon but it’s different today. Instead of lemon I use the peel of an orange," explains the bartender. Guests pay US$27 (Bt880) for a glass of Vesper Lynd.
A classic Martini is usually served with gin – not vodka. And it is stirred – not shaken. “The reason for stirring is the high level of alcohol of the Martini. This way, it stays cold and clear.” Shaking makes the drink milky – a faux pas in the past.
“The upper class used to drink Martinis and it was against social conventions to shake the Martini. Fleming used this very cleverly – Bond wants the drink shaken to provoke. He is Bond, he’s allowed to.”
The Vesper Lynd is also a way for Palazzi to provoke a little. “I probably want to be like Mr Fleming.”
Palazzi has been given a book by one of his guests, “50 Years of James Bond – The Auction”, a reference guide to the auction of Bond movie props at nearby Christie’s.
Palazzi muses: “That means we’ll be seeing a lot of crazy people here. Every time there’s a new James Bond film, quite special characters drop by. Sometimes they’re a little strange and think they’re the real James Bond.”