Tucked away in an exclusive corner of Mayfair, only a brisk walk away from Buckingham Palace, lies Dukes Hotel. Stroll down St James's Street and take a side-street to enter the minute courtyard to find this discreet spot. Dukes Bar may come across a touch pretentious at first glance, mainly due to the imposing décor and grand location, but don't let that put you off.
One of the first things that catches the eye in Dukes is the very intimate and traditional British ambience, although that, thankfully, does not mean the environment is stuffy or worn-out. The clientele are on the whole, decidedly refined, which is hardly a shock given the surrounding area. However, visitors nowadays are far more diverse than in the past, with a surprisingly high number of American guests, as well as the more typical Mayfair banking set. It always helps to dress-up for Dukes, as most callers are dressed smart, inducing a fair number of suits.
Ian Fleming, famed author of James Bond, is said to have coined the term 'shaken not stirred' after being inspired by Dukes. The bar is keen to show off their Bond credentials and have recently introduced the Spectre Cocktail - in honour of the new film. Not being a fan of martinis can make you feel a bit left out of the action here, especially when there are so many on the menu. Price-wise Dukes is certainly not cheap - expect to pay around £20 for one of Alessandro Palazzi, Dukes' head barman, creations.
It would be almost disrespectful to not at least try one of the ten varieties of martinis on offer at Dukes, from the 'The Grand Martini' and 'Oracabessa' to 'Room 39' and 'Le Chiffre'. We first opted for 'Ian Fleming's Classic Vesper', comprised of No. 3 Gin, Polacki vodka, Angostura bitters, and Sacred Dukes Exclusive Amber Vermouth. To say the Vesper packed a punch would be a major understatement, but it was relatively smooth to go down, given the high-proof ingredients. A slice of orange peel was added to give an extra edge.
'Miss Moneypenny', with Russian standard vodka, triple sec, fresh lime and passion fruit juice, was the next choice. This drink is a twist on the traditional Cosmopolitan, with cranberry juice replaced with passion fruit juice. As a longtime Cosmo fan the 'Moneypenny' had a lot to live up to, but it was a refreshing cocktail that artfully managed to combine the elements well.
Its a nice touch that all martinis are prepared and served right in-front of you on a little trolley, otherwise known as the "legendary Duke's trolley". So you can be sure all the drinks are fresh and given the appropriate care.
Those looking for a martini overload will feel at home in Dukes Bar and even visitors not too eager to sample a martini should be able to pick from the other cocktail options on offer. Just try to limit yourself to one martini, or you won't end up remembering much of the occasion.
Dukes Hotel, 35-36 St James's Place, SW1A 1NY