Sunday, 6 May 2018

On location: James Bond's New York

A recent trip to New York to speak at a conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World gave me the chance to look up a few of the locations mentioned in Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’ and experience something of James Bond’s adventures in the city.

Arriving into JFK (formerly Idlewild), I didn’t quite get the red-carpet treatment that Bond received (LALD, chapter 1), but I beat the worst of the queues and got through passport control in less than half an hour. I had been a bit worried, because I reached the passport control booth without having filled out the customs declaration form (I had no pen), but the passport control officer kindly lent me a pen so that I could fill in the form then and there (I was afraid he would send me to the back of the by now very long line), which I reckon is as red a carpet as one is likely to get these days.  

I jumped into a taxi and headed towards downtown Manhattan via the Van Wyck Expressway and the Triborough Bridge, following Bond’s routes into the city in Live and Let Die and ‘007 in New York’. Alas, staying at the St Regis was out of the question, but my first New York breakfast – in a diner on Broadway – was inspired by Bond’s breakfast in that hotel. I ordered coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and rye toast, and had to make do with grape jelly, rather than marmalade. The eggs and bacon, incidentally, arrived with fried potatoes, which I hadn’t ordered, but seem to come as standard. My eggs Benedict that I had the next morning were also served with fried potatoes.
Scrambled eggs and bacon, US style
Conference business didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing, but I took the opportunity of a few spare hours in the morning of my second day in New York to find 33 East 65th Street, located in the city’s Upper East Side just off Madison Avenue; the ground floor and adjoining garage doubled for the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop in the film of Live and Let Die.

Oh Cult Voodoo Shop

With conference proceedings over by my third and final day in New York, I was at last able to do some proper exploring. Armed with copies of the relevant novels and a print-out of a map of Bond locations created by Bond Maps (if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check out Matt Bunnell’s excellent Google map and blog), I rode the Subway to Times Square-42nd Street and began my walking tour. 

I couldn’t see everything, but I visited the principal sites. Sardi’s, the restaurant in which Felix Leiter introduces Bond to Brizzola in in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8), is still there on West 44th Street in the heart of New York’s theatre district, but unfortunately, Brizzola is no longer on the menu.

The restaurant is famous for its caricatures of its famous patrons, and I could see that James Bond had actually visited – a portrait of Daniel Craig was hanging in the window.
Daniel Craig in the window of Sardi's

A few steps away, on West 45th Street, is the site of the Hotel Astor, where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’. The hotel is no longer there – the site is now taken up by One Astor Plaza – but the Marriot Marquis hotel next door provides an alternative place to stay. I walked along to 6th Avenue and headed to the site of House of Diamonds on West 46th Street. The area remains an important diamond centre, and diamond stores line this and neighbouring streets.

I walked up 5th Avenue (just as Bond does in Live and Let Die), and turned into West 52nd Street and found 21 Club, the bar and restaurant where Bond and Tiffany Case dine in Diamonds are Forever and where Bond considers having lunch in ‘007 in New York’. The restaurant, nestled somewhat incongruously between modern office blocks, was closed for refurbishment, so unfortunately, I couldn’t follow Bond and indulge in a martini or stinger.
21 Club

My next stop was the St Regis on East 55th Street, Bond’s hotel in Live and Let Die. The hotel’s King Cole Bar, is curiously not mentioned in the book, but was a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming’s. Opposite the hotel, I spotted another place with a Bondian connection – a branch of Crockett & Jones, bootmaker to James Bond in the film Spectre.
The St Regis hotel

I saved the best till last for my final stop – the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. In ‘007 in New York’, James Bond considers the restaurant’s oyster stew (with crackers and Miller High Life beer) to be the best meal in New York, echoing Fleming’s own view, expressed in Thrilling Cities, that oyster stew is perhaps the only dish ‘that has maintained its integrity in the New York’ of his experience.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal. (The youth in the corner hasn't been a naughty boy, but is listening to the station's famous whispering walls.)

Naturally, I ordered the dish, and I wouldn’t disagree that it is superb. (A recipe for oyster stew inspired by the Oyster Bar version can be found in my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook.) Miller High Life is no longer available in the restaurant, so I had a Brooklyn beer, which is more like an English ale, instead.
Oyster stew from the Oyster Bar

I was pleased to see a little nod to James Bond in the oyster bar – the Vesper martini was on the menu.
The Oyster Bar's Vesper

Then it was straight into a taxi and back to the airport. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in New York, and I would like to go back. My Bond sightseeing was a whistle-stop tour, and there is plenty more to see. Still, it was thrilling to see just some of the Bond locations, and the visit has helped me to picture the scenes in the books much more clearly.

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