This holiday season feels different for sure. The pandemic is taking far too long to release its grip from our best-laid plans. Travel is an even more difficult proposition for most of us in 2020.

Still, when I think of the festive feelings that Christmas and New Year’s bring, my mind always drifts to the trips I have taken with family during this time of year. Growing up, my mother and father would whisk us off to deck out holiday destinations – mostly simple places, but at times a bit more extravagant. One trip to New York stands out– the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, light-adorned buildings and store fronts, and ice skating in central park with a hot chocolate nearby. It’s a cozy feeling that brings a bit of cheer to my mind.

Perhaps my favorite holiday travel memory took place a couple years back. My wife and I decided to head to London in December to experience the United Kingdom’s capital city. It is special being in London, period, but this time of year is magical. The city comes alive with the sparkle of lights stretched across every street, Christmas Trees in every square, and hotels and department stores dolled up in their holiday best. London takes FESTIVE to another level!

One favorite moment of our trip was a visit to Duke’s Hotel, which is positioned down a quaint alley in Mayfair, not too far from Buckingham Palace. Duke’s is a special place, sophisticated but not over the top in any way, and beautifully decorated with trees and lights during the holidays.

Tucked around the corner of the hotel entrance sits the establishment’s crown jewel, Duke’s Bar. It is with ease that I can say Duke’s Bar is one of the finest bars in the world. Don’t just take my word for it, every major travel magazine and drinks writer agrees with the claim. The bar is most well-known for its special Martini’s, and the way they are made.

Shaken or stirred is the most common method of preparation for Martinis. Duke’s Bar does neither. Ordering your selected cocktail begins a tableside preparation you will not soon forget. The friendly and experienced bartender wheels an antique bar cart filled with cocktail ingredients right to your seat. Each martini is then built right in the serving glass from gin and/or vodka that has been stored in the freezer. Duke’s believes its method of preparation yields a colder and less diluted Martini. They are correct and the results are the best in the world.

Travel may be limited this year but give these classic cocktails a try. Along with some snacks and light nibbles, these drinks will keep your holiday season festive and bright. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The Cocktail Recipes

The recipes below are an adaptation from Duke’s house recipe due to the specific vermouths used at the bar not being available in America. In terms of suggested gins, a few favorites include Beefeater London Dry, Ford’s London Dry, No. 3 London Dry, and Tanqueray, but do not hesitate to use whatever you like. These cocktails come off best with a more juniper-forward gin.

Duke’s Martini

Frozen Martini Glass

.5ounce Dolin Dry Vermouth (refrigerate vermouth)

3 ounces Gin (stored in freezer)

1 large lemon peel, no pith, for expressing

oils and garnish

Instructions: To obtain the proper serving temperature (ice cold), store vermouth in the refrigerator and gin in the freezer at least 4-5 hours before making cocktails.

Build cocktail in the frozen glass by first adding the vermouth.

Next pour the gin, do not stir.

Finally, garnish with large, wide lemon peel by first twisting over the top of the cocktail before placing in the drink.

This makes a dry, gin-forward martini. If you wish to ramp up or reduce the sweetness, use more or less vermouth.

Serve, and enjoy the coldest martini of your life.

Duke’s Vesper Martini

The Vesper is a drink made famous by Ian Fleming in the James Bond novels. Mr. Fleming is said to have been a regular guest at Duke’s. To me, this is the best version of this drink.

1 dash Angostura Bitters

1 dash Orange Bitters

.75 ounce Lillet Blanc Aperitif (refrigerated at least 4-5 hours)

1.5 ounce Vodka (frozen at least 4-5 hours) (Belvedere or Sobieski preferred)

2 ounces Gin (frozen at least 4-5 hours)

1 large orange peel, no pith, for expressing oils and garnish

Instructions: To obtain the proper serving temperature (ice cold), store Lillet Blanc in the refrigerator and the gin and vodka in the freezer at least 4-5 hours before making cocktails.

Build cocktail in the frozen glass by first adding the bitters

Next pour the Lillet Blank

Next pour the vodka, then the gin, do not stir.

Finally, garnish with large, wide orange peel by first twisting over the top of the cocktail before placing in the drink.

Serve and enjoy a Vesper that Bond would be proud to drink.

Ingredients available at Moon Wine & Spirits - 6910 Moores Lane, Brentwood, TN 37027. moonwineandspirits.com.

Bio: Jason Pyle is a Franklin resident and President of Latitude 36, Inc. (www.lat36.com), an Information Technology Staffing and Consulting firm headquartered in the area. For nearly 10 years Jason ran a blog called Sour Mash Manifesto (www.sourmashmanifesto.com). Jason has a library of video reviews posted on YouTube under “Jason Pyle” and was a contributing author and reviewer for “1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die” (American Whiskey Section).

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