Dr. No was released in cinemas in October 1962, and to celebrate James Bond’s 60th anniversary our Travel Editor visited the film franchise’s most iconic worldwide locations. We also checked into DUKES Hotel, where Ian Fleming drank martinis in the 1950s…
THE WEEKEND: A two minute walk from Green Park and the throws of Piccadilly, DUKES hotel is found at the bottom of a mews that’s Diagon Alley levels of discretion. Princess Diana used to hide from the paps here, and Ian Fleming used to drink here, which is why I’m staying, to earmark Bond’s 60th anniversary. Other than the obvious London sights which are thrillingly close – staying so central in St James is a thrill unto itself – you shouldn’t miss a trip to The Stafford, another gorgeously discreet property nearby, or a wander to nearby Clarence House.
THE STAY: I stayed in The Duke of Clarence Suite on the fifth floor with views over Clarence House and St James that are so intimate you feel as if Camilla and Charles may accidentally flash you at any given moment. I stared at the assortment of white and brown-bricked Edwardian architectural accomplishments and imagined as if I were Fleming, who would have enjoyed these exact same vistas when he visited in the mid century. My Suite was also in the part of the hotel that dates back to construction in 1908. I ask a staff member who drops off champagne to tell me who’s stayed in this room – his smile and refusal implied not that he was teasing, but that discretion is a serious and essential part of his job.
Oh, and the room’s gorgeous, in case you were wondering. I’m six foot two and could comfortably fit long and width-ways in the bed, and the bath was almost ocean-sized. Around the hotel, an effort has been made not to modernise. The lifts have a seat with plumped cushions in, which is totally extra but extra fabulous too, and staff at DUKES hotel seem as if they enjoy their work but not in an off putting OTT way that comes across as fake.
The Vesper martini, comprised of 125mls of vodka and gin, is a sour-fresh thrill, and poured at-table from a vintage drinking cart, it’s almost fun to watch being made as it is to drink.
THE FOOD: Downstairs in the basement, the Great British Restaurant is the sort of place impossibly wealthy locals go for casual Saturday and Sunday lunches. At the table next to me, a daughter was schooling her mother on her shoddy investment plan. For a hotel with such a classic feel, the food is excitingly contemporary. Isle of Wight tomatoes with a tomato sorbet stood out from the starters, and a roasted duck for mains was divine. A deconstructed chocolate dessert, back on the balcony in the Suite, had new depths of dark chocolate with each bite and waiting staff were very happy to have it sent up to the room.
WHAT ELSE IS UNMISSABLE? The bar. The DUKES hotel bar is where Fleming drank martinis, and head mixologist Alessandro Palazzi is happy to tell you the tales. The original part of the venue is the seating area in front of where the bar now stands. The bar itself has been moved a foot backwards, Palazzi tells me, but that’s all in terms of modernisation since Fleming’s day. Royal blue velvet chairs look newly upholstered, and the hunting imagery on the walls is a perfect time capsule back to, well, any other era of this bar’s existence. The Vesper martini, comprised of 125mls of vodka and gin, is a sour-fresh thrill, and poured at-table from a vintage drinking cart, it’s almost fun to watch being made as it is to drink.
WHAT’S NEARBY? Well, everything really. Fortnums, Green Park, Buckingham Palace are the obvious ones. But stay closer to the St James’ Place enclave where the hotel resides and find more unusual shops such as gun merchants and perfumers, as well as a higher proportion of blue plaques denoting which famous people lived down this road, more than I’ve seen anywhere else in the capital.
The Duke of Clarence Suite at DUKES hotel starts from £2,925 per night