Nestled away on its own cul-de-sac off the storied Strand in the City of Westminster is the hotel that once played host to Winston Churchill’s wartime briefings, that even served as a triage center during the Blitz.
It’s night, when the city is at its best. To the brassy, aggressive strains of a jazz anthem composed by Elmer Bernstein, our point of view drifts through the glorious, desperate chaos of New York at night. Men in suits, women in cocktail dresses, stumbling into and out of nightclubs, into and out of cabs. Those who want to be seen, those who want to see. Movers, shakers, power players, hustlers, hyenas.
The Martini has been around since the mid-to-late 1800s. Its life has spanned the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Summer of Love, disco, punk, and Hammer Pants. It has been in style, out of fashion, and subject to the peculiar and not always trustworthy whims of the American drinker.
There are few moments more perfect than walking into a bar late at night and hearing a Billie Holiday song. They’re practically made for ordering an Old Fashioned as you prop your elbows up on the bar and think about lost loves and life’s regrets.
West 52nd Street between Broadway and 8th Ave. is one of those anonymous blocks that seems to offer little. But tucked in there is a piano bar and restaurant called Russian Samovar. It used to be called Jilly’s Saloon, where Frank Sinatra held court.
The Americano seems a fairly nondescript drink with which to kick off such a legendary drinking career as that of James Bond, though it’s doubtful Ian Fleming was thinking that the Americano would be examined as the drink that started an international phenomenon.
On his trip to Naples, Fleming is quick to lose interest in the city itself. Much of the Neapolitan chapter of Thrilling Cities is taken up by an of Ian Fleming’s audience with infamous gangster Lucky Luciano.
The list of men who have been named as “the real James Bond” is long. Most of them insist there is no way they were the inspiration for 007. As far as he himself was concerned, Dusan Popov was much cooler than James Bond.