There’s a little bar, very discreet, tucked away in a quiet corner of Mayfair. It sits inside a classic Mayfair Hotel. You’d probably never know it was there. Welcome to Dukes Bar.
This bar is famous for one very special thing, the simple classic drink that they do extremely well and that they make with proper old-fashioned style. Dukes Bar has been serving dry martinis for 112 years now, so the bartenders know their stuff. It’s the sort of place that James Bond would go to meet M for a quiet drink. In fact, it was the preferred haunt of Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, so no wonder his hero was partial to a dry Martini. And if the walls could speak, what stories we’d hear.
This is the perfect place to meet a lover or to seal a secret deal. The sort of place where the white-jacketed waiters see everything but say nothing. It’s a place that doesn’t need to advertise itself. It likes things just the way they are. This place has built its reputation over more than a century. And news of its delights has spread in the best way possible. By word of mouth.
Small, intimate and stylish, in a very British gentleman’s club kind of way, you can sit on small, round tables, overstuffed sofas or gorgeous leather armchairs.
Spread over three rooms, Dukes Bar does things the way it has always done them: with oodles of crusty British style, discretion and just a modest touch of panache.
The main thing to know is that you should always order your Martinis from the trolley list. Someone will wheel a small trolley to your table. From it, you’ll be offered a selection of 2-3 spirits served from bottles so cold they could stick to your hands. Straight from the freezer to your table, the icy gin is poured directly into a Martini glass that has shared the freezer space to become equally cool.
Alongside your preferred gin, your bartender will offer you a choice of vermouth (made in house) or a selection of bitters along with a small bowl of fruit. Your drink will be stirred in front of you (no hurry here) and garnished from the fruit bowl.
This is cocktail heaven, the old fashioned way.
They source their lemons directly from a supplier on the Amalfi coast of Italy and if you’re looking for food, the dish of the day appears to be salty nuts. This is not a place to come to eat. You come here to drink.
There’s no music, no television and the crowd are engaged in a quiet conversational hum. Oil paintings hang on the walls. This is a 20th century bar oozing with 19th century atmosphere.
But those Martinis – I keep coming back to those Martinis
The real reason people in the know come to this bar is for those Martinis – rightly considered amongst the best in the world.
On their trolley, Plymouth Gin (paid link) is offered for the Martini base. They then wave a bottle of home made vermouth in the general direction of France and add three olives from Sicily or, if you prefer, a very thin slice of those Amalfi lemons. But they have others available too, including Sacred Gin (paid link), which they claim was Ian Fleming’s favourite.
As they say at Dukes: “One is alright, two are too many, three are not enough”.
The delicate dance of the Dry Martini
The making of the Martini here is a performance all of its own, more like a dance than a job. The white jacketed, black tied, mostly Italian waiters have it down to a fine art. After 112 years, Dukes has had plenty of practice.
So, if you’re looking for an intimate place with heritage and pedigree, if you want to spend the evening quietly sipping the best dry martini in the world while speculating which one of your fellow drinkers will be heading back to MI5 with a hangover in the morning, then this is the place.
You are going back to the source – and you won’t be disappointed.
Dukes Hotel, 35 St. James’ Place, London SW1A 1NY
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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