A trip to New York last year 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 – particularly gastronomic – in the city.
Arriving into JFK (formerly Idlewild), I didn’t quite get the red-carpet treatment that Bond received, but I beat the worst of the queues and got through passport control in less than half an hour. 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’.
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.
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.
On 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, 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, 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.
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. The next stop was the St Regis on East 55th Street, Bond’s hotel in Live and Let Die.
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.
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 cookbook). Miller High Life is no longer available in the restaurant, so instead I had a Brooklyn beer, which I found to be more like an English ale. I was, incidentally, pleased to see a little nod to James Bond in the oyster bar – the Vesper martini was on the menu.
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.