With World Martini Day upon us, an exploration of the world’s most famous fictional martini drinker, James Bond, is undoubtedly called for. Bond became famous for drinking martinis on screen beginning with Sean Connery’s portrayal of the international man of mystery in Dr. No in which he is seen drinking a vodka martini with a bottle of Smirnoff by his side. Because of this, and the fact that Bond never drinks a gin martini on screen, it is often thought that Bond is purely a vodka martini man (shaken, not stirred, obviously). But, by nature of being a gin club, we know better and are here to defend our favourite white spirit.
It turns out that in Ian Fleming’s novels, Bond’s consumption of gin martinis rivals that of his vodka martinis - 16 to 19 respectively. As a Brit, we would hope that Mr. Bond would show some patriotism whilst shunning the liquor of his Cold War enemies! Eight of those 16 gins, however, are handed to him by his American friend and CIA agent, Felix Leiter. Below we take a look at the occasions and locations in which Bond drinks martinis - both gin and vodka and some with Leiter - in the world’s most well-known spy novels.
THE BAHAMAS - THUNDERBALL - GIN MARTINIS (and a lesson on making them)
On the hunt for hijacked atomic bombs, Bond travels to The Bahamas to rendez-vous with his CIA counterpart and friend, Felix Leiter. Whilst awaiting their first lunch together, the drink one dry martini each, only to order two more before lunch arrives.
Later in the book, they meet in the bar of the hotel in which they are staying - the Royal Bahamian - where Leiter gives the barman a lesson on making martinis. Miffed at the huge olive that the barman dropped in the bottom of the glass - a trick used by bartenders to extend the life of and profits on their spirits bottles - Leiter orders the glass returned and the olive removed to show that without the olive, the glass is only half full. He then orders two martinis with Gordon’s, full glasses with lemon peel on the side. Bond is impressed.
The hotel in which this important life drinking lesson goes down is today owned by a Sandals in Nassau, a resort chain proud to speak of its connection with Mr. Bond and its filming locations.
NEW YORK - LIVE AND LET DIE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER - GIN MARTINIS
Bond ends up in the Big Apple drinking gin martinis on two occasions in Ian Fleming’s novels and bot times with his Texan CIA friend, Leiter. The first occurs in 1954’s Live and Let Live at the St. Regis Hotel where Leiter orders Bond a martini made with House of Lords Gin, Martini & Rossi vermouth and lemon peel slices. At the time of the novel’s publication, Booth’s Gin owned House of Lords which was an American gin.
The St. Regis maintains its historical location at 2 East 55th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue where the American business man and real estate tycoon John Jacob Astor built it to complement the Waldorf Astoria in which he also owned a significant stake.
When Bond returns to New York in 1956’s Diamonds are Forever via Las Vegas while chasing a diamond smuggling operation, he and Leiter meet at Sardi’s, an iconic Manhattan restaurant known for its caricatures of famous people hanging from the walls. Sardi’s maintains its welcoming star-lit atmosphere at 234 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eight Avenue in the Theatre District where it has served cocktails since 1927.
SWITZERLAND - ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE - VODKA MARTINIS
Bond goes under cover to meet the villain that plagues him in three novels along with Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, Ernst Stavro Blofield. In this particular situation Blofield is planning biological warfare on the UK to ruin their post WWII economy.
The choice of location leads to adventure, including one of the most famous movie scenes when bond escapes via ski, Piz Gloria, a mountain-top restaurant in the Swiss Alps which claims to be the world’s first spinning restaurant. The restaurant maintains a James Bond tribute to this day, no thanks to the financing that the producers of the Bond film contributed for the restaurant’s completion.
DOVER - MOONRAKER - GIN MARTINIS
In the UK, Fleming throws in the additional twist of Bond getting served a martini by the book’s Bond villain, Sir Hugo Drax. Drax, who had plotted to destroy London by spearing it’s heart with a nuclear-tipped missile. Despite the film spanning memorably (or not so much depending on your opinion) from England to California to outer space, Fleming’s novel takes place entirely in dreary old England.
Whilst visiting Drax to learn more about the Moonraker missile he is building, Bond is offered a dry martini which he deems “excellent” and asks for another which Drax’s henchman Krebs gladly pours him. Not long after, Bond and one of his many ladies are swimming in the English Channel beneath the White Cliffs of Dover only to suffer an avalanche attack, the type of rockslide that has been happening more recently at the cliffs in recent years.
NORTHERN FRANCE - CASINO ROYALE - VESPER (BOTH GIN AND VODKA)
Fleming opted to use a fictional town for the location of Casino Royale, a place he called Royale-les-Eaux, which was described as being close to the mouth of the Somme River in the eponymous French département. Casino Royale features the famous scene when Bond gives the bartender at the casino very specific instructions about the drink that he’s after, a drink purportedly created by Fleming to suit his character and his own tastes - the Vesper (Fleming was a huge consumer of alcohol, particularly gin). Bond’s drink, which he enjoyed accompanied by his American CIA friend Leiter, called for “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”
This is the only time in the Bond novels that the Vesper appears and also the only time that Bond willing orders what could be considered a version of a martini (although, for us gin fans, he does order Pink Gin in one novel and a Negroni in another).