Dukes Bar | Intimate St James’s Hotel Bar
Dukes Bar is known for making quite possibly the best martinis in London.
And yes, they’re prepared to duke it out.
An old haunt of author Ian Fleming’s, the bar is said to have provided the inspiration for Bond’s old adage, ‘shaken not stirred’. Planted squarely in the territory of the quintessential English gentleman, St James’s, Dukes Bar is a fitting ode to timeless elegance, with old portraits hanging on the walls, velvet armchairs and a wood-panelled bar in the corner. There’s no music, just the murmur of quiet conversations and the clink of glass.
There are wines and cocktails, but you can’t go without trying one of Duke’s signature martinis, made ceremoniously for you by a white-jacketed barkeep at a table-side martini trolley loaded with ice-cold bottles and vintage decanters filled with bitters and vermouth. The tender will then free-pour the spirits into your frosted glass (it’s so cold, they won’t add any ice to your drink) and nonchalantly place it – full to the brim – onto your table. No shaking, no stirring – just layers of perfectly proportioned ingredients that slowly intermingle.
Their most ordered one by far is the Vesper Martini – a vodka & gin martini that’s the closest modern approximation to the martini Bond orders in Casino Royale, given that some of the ingredients have since changed recipe in the intervening 65 years. Then there’s a dozen or so twists, like the Fleming 89, put together by head tender Alessandro Palazzi in honour of the ‘Floris 89’ eau de toilette worn by Bond (and, coincidentally, sold from the still existent shop on Jermyn Street. Fleming had a huge imagination but moved in small circles, seemingly). A dessert in a drink, the 89 sees the vodka laced with sugared roses and rose liqueur, chocolate bitters and tonka beans.
And, however tempted you may be to work your way through the entire list, the martinis here are made with such gusto that a two-martini limit is in operation. Which, given the fairly piquant price tag, is probably a good thing…
Then again, you only live twice.
NOTE: Dukes Bar is open daily from 2-11pm (4-10.30pm Sundays). There is a smart-casual dress code, and tables are for walk-ins only – find out more on their website HERE.
Dukes Bar | 35 St James’s Place, SW1A 1NY
Partial to a vodka martini? Read our guide to London’s best vodka bars