James Bond’s London
Except for the commercially-named cocktails (the margarita-esque Miss Moneypenny martini was tempting ), everything about the small but elegantly appointed bar just off the lobby of Duke's hotel (on a cul-de-sac off St James's Place, www.dukeshotel.com) feels vintage. Bond would feel at home among the attentive white-jacketed bartenders, velvety chairs and clientele outfitted in suits and 1950s-era cocktail dresses. I ordered the Ian Fleming's Classic Vesper, which was prepared on a rolling bar cart wheeled next to my small table. The recipe for the Vesper has changed since Fleming frequented the bar, mainly because the original ingredients have gone extinct. But the basic elements of vodka, gin, bitters, aperitif wine and citrus peel all come together, absent any shaking or even stirring.
As the story goes, Fleming was researching options for his spy's signature cocktail when the bartender at Duke's recommended this version and its oft-quoted prep method. The drink gets its name from the character Vesper Lynd from the novel in which the drink is born, Casino Royale. According to the bar's current manager, Allesandro Palazzi, shaking or stirring with ice is not needed (nor desired, as it dilutes the drink) when you freeze the main ingredients. The charming Mr. Palazzi took a break from greeting his guests in the comfortably crowded bar to thank Fleming for his part in Duke's success. "He made the martini democratic. Before Fleming, it was a snob drink. I owe this man a lot."
I enjoyed a Vesper once before (at the One & Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas, where the card game in the 2006 film Casino Royale was shot), but had forgotten its bitter, sweet and powerful punch, which is followed by a mouth numbing anise finish.
I let the buzz of it carry me to Scott's restaurant (20 Mount Street; www.scotts-restaurant.com), Ian Fleming's favourite (though located near Piccadilly Circus in his day). Fleming once told a San Francisco Examiner columnist that James Bond always had lunch there, sitting in a corner table to watch the pretty girls. You can easily imagine that happening in the current location's '60s mod interior with leather banquettes, a giant seafood ice boat and vested wait staff that all give off a Cold War-era highbrow vibe.
Bikinis, gadgets and guns
I made a few other stops on the James Bond trail, some more pedestrian than others. The Bond Room at Planet Hollywood (57-60 Haymarket; planethollywoodlondon.com), the last place you would actually find James Bond, holds a rotating collection of movie memorabilia such as a couple of Walther PPKs, scale models and the holy grail of Bond film apparel, Ursula Andress's bikini from Dr. No.
On the other side of the river I visited London's Imperial War Museum (Lambeth Road, www.iwm.org.uk). Although the museum houses a renowned collection of military weapons and vehicles, I was there for an exhibit titled The Secret War, which was packed with declassified information and accoutrement from the vaults of the British secret intelligence and security services, MI5 and MI6. The video introduction included a montage of 007 film clips before you walk through displays of real gadgets that would make Q smile, including code-breaking machines, notecards with invisible messages, dugout batteries holding microfilm, a pistol in the shape of a smoking pipe, night vision goggles and suicide tablets. A teenager walked through the exhibit whistling the James Bond theme.
Live and let die
I saved the most evocative stop for last - a residential street in the Chelsea neighbourhood that, according to Gary Giblin's exhaustive and detailed reference guide, James Bond's London, is where 007 lived. Wellington Square is a pretty little circle of nearly identical white, terraced Regency-style houses surrounding a row of bark-shedding plane trees, just off King's Road, opposite a Starbucks. Mr. Giblin has done an impressive job of narrowing the options down to the only street that matches the descriptions in Moonraker, Casino Royale and From Russian With Love, which references a "plane-treed square off the King's Road".