On the edge of Hyde Park, the white Italian marble of London’s Marble Arch glowed in the light of the setting sun while I conspicuously stood under it, looking for my mark. I worried I had missed him, since I had seen only a single photo, and thought that I might not recognize him even if he strolled in front of me. After several minutes I dialled him on my mobile.
"I am just across Park Lane," he said. "Turn east, cross the street and you will see me near the corner."
"Sorry", I said, turning on my heel and looking in every direction, "Which way is east?"
"Well, Mr. Bond", he answered, with a cutting flash of sarcasm, "do you see which way the sun is setting? That would be west."
Chastened, I crossed the street and met Simon Rodway, an official city guide (www.silvercanetours.com) who leads a tour on Ian Fleming through the Mayfair neighbourhood of London. I was interested primarily in the real world destinations of the fictional James Bond and less in the places frequented by his creator, so Mr. Rodway led me on a more bespoke route. I soon learned, however, that finding 007's London calls for walking in the footsteps of Fleming as the two men's interests and experiences overlap considerably.
Bond and Fleming were both intelligence agents with a penchant for gambling and the finer things in life. They also were globetrotters who jetted from one exotic locale to another but called London home. The city is a recurring setting in the 007 novels and much of the backdrop to Moonraker (the 3rd in the 007 series), which I re-read in preparation for my tour.
Mr. Rodway and I began with a series of mildly interesting stops: Fleming's birthplace, just around the corner from Marble Arch at 27 Green Street; the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve's club (38 Hill Street; www.navalclub.co.uk ), of which both Fleming and Bond were members; the high-end retailers of Berkeley Square that Fleming and Bond might be familiar with, like the Bentley (Bond's car make in Moonraker) and Rolls Royce showrooms; and perhaps the last of what were once many "spy shops" (1 Berkeley Street) in the neighbourhood.
When we made the jog over to St James's Street (which ends just one block from where Old Bond Street begins - merely a coincidence), the world of Fleming's 007 started to come to life. We stood outside the famous and famously private gentlemen's club, White's (37-38 St James's), whose members have included Fleming, Prince Charles, Prime Minister David Cameron and actor David Niven, who was Fleming's choice to play Bond in the film adaptations before Sean Connery nabbed the role. Not being members we could only look in and spy on the members reading the newspaper and having an aperitif.
Across the street from White's is the state gray building of the recently closed casino (50 St James's) known in Fleming's day as one of the most famous casinos in the world. It offered high stakes to high society and is believed to be the inspiration for the first novel, Casino Royale. Next door to the White's club is the Beretta Gallery, as in the Beretta 418, the firearm carried by James Bond in the first several books. Fleming almost seems lazy for simply looking out the bay window of White's for inspiration.
Walking south, we reached Boodles (28 St. James's; www.boodles.org), the second oldest gentlemen's club in the world where Fleming was also a member and which inspired the gin of the same name as well as Moonraker's fictionalized Blades club. Fleming devoted four chapters of the book on an intense bridge game with the cheating villain Hugo Drax at Blades. Standing before the stately white and brick building and peering into the heavily draped interior (after being denied a look inside), was enough to make me feel I had stepped through the looking glass into Fleming's novel.
'Shaken, not stirred'
The only way to get closer to James Bond's world, I thought, would be to drink it in, which is what I did at a hotel bar a couple of blocks away that legend purports to be the home the famously "shaken, not stirred" Vesper martini.
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".
No house on the square precisely matches the most detailed description found in the novels, but John Pearson chose No. 30 Wellington Square (for no reason Mr. Giblin could figure) as Bond's street address in his fictional book, James Bond: The Authorized Biography.
It was a cool, drizzly night and l leaned against one of the square's lampposts, happily letting my imagination get the best of me. After walking all over town I was on James Bond's street and I stood, furtively, waiting for the world's most famous spy to emerge from one of the doorways.
David G Allan is the editorial director of BBC Travel.