The helicopter skims over the waves of the translucent aqua waters, as James hovers precariously at the open door, binoculars trained unerringly on the sea bottom. The missing nuclear-missile equipped plane is somewhere beneath, carefully hidden beneath the curling waves and shifting white sands far below. The plane must be somewhere below… But, how to find it?
Thunderball, filmed in 1965, was the movie that launched my fascination with all things Bond. To this young boy, the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean were magical, the sea-life below inspiring, and my quest for the exotic side of life was born. The white sand beaches, the music of Junkanoo, the beautiful rich-girl Domino snorkeling for starfish in her teeny-bikini, the underwater diving scenes as Bond dives with his miniature air tank, (as sharks circle, of course!) trying to locate the plane which Largo has deviously camouflaged with nets; how could these images fail to capture the imagination!
The scene in which Bond first meets his nemesis, Largo, was actually a restaurant called Café Martinique on Paradise Island, Bahamas. This small, uber-elegant 1960’s restaurant was carefully retrofitted for its glittering close-up as a Casino in Thunderball. So what better a place to kick off our new James Bond movie location hobby? We packed our bags and packed our fanciest finery for a fine dinner on Paradise Island.
Many of the James Bond movies over the years have made use of the stunning scenery of the Bahamas, from Thunderball in 1965 with Sean Connery, to For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore in 1981 and The World is Not Enough in 1999 with Pierce Brosnan. The romantic Café Martinique, now a lemon-meringue townhouse enveloped in banana trees and exotic flowers, was once located where the immense Atlantis Resort now stands, and had its own dock where the well-heeled could tie up their yachts to enjoy a gourmet dinner and some fine wine. The movie does not show much of the exterior, mainly focusing on the excitement in the casino, and then romantic dining outside on a terrace strung with patio lanterns and showcasing a Caribbean band, but I longed to see it, and my wife was also intrigued with seeing it in real life. Going there for a romantic evening was to be our first foray into “Bond Trekking”.
As bad luck would have it, the first time we tried to visit Café Martinique in the mid 1990’s, it was closed down, theoretically “for renovations”. How disappointing not to be able to experience a dinner at this restaurant after coming all this way! However, trying to make the most of the situation, we strolled around the property. Though it was dark and boarded up, we could visualize it from the movie, remembering how James walks into the Casino, to see the super-sexy Domino sitting at the Poker table with Largo, her “legal guardian”. (What fun would that be – to have an Arch-Villain as your legal guardian!) It made us sad to see it closed down. At that time, we did not realize that it was actually going to be demolished to make way for an expansion of what is now the monolithic Atlantis Resort, which has transformed the once beautiful and somewhat sleepy Paradise Island into the Disneyland of the Caribbean, a debatable honor.
A more recent return to experience the One and Only Ocean Club, Bahamas, where Casino Royale filmed many scenes (to be covered in a future chapter), found us searching out Café Martinique once more. We ended up wishing we hadn’t tried a second time. It is now just a small part of the immense “Atlantis Wonderland” that covers most of Paradise Island. The theme park environment in which Cafe Martinique has been rebuilt, with the hordes of rather obnoxious tourists and the screaming children that accompany them, have caused this once intimate gem to lose all intimacy and charm.
They have tried very hard to recreate it, and have even put in a replica of the bird-cage style elevator to bring you up to the dining floor. It is quite beautiful, with a cozy bar filled with carved antique furniture, and a dining room bursting with colorful flowers. There are etched glass windows that filter the hot Bahamian sun, and a stunning Mahogany staircase to impress. Run by protégée Michael Lewis, the cuisine of super-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is now the attraction, although there are varying views as to whether this is a successful partnership. I had the Roasted
Bahamian Lobster Tail in the Shell with delicious fried plantains (incredibly wonderful) and the Dover Sole Meunière for my husband. You can check out the menu here.
Sadly, though, at least for Bond Lovers, it now feels like just another restaurant, as though it soul was stolen away. Well, there’s always another try! Where should we go next?
James Bond Crush chapter 1: Cafe Martinique, Bahamas was written by Deborah Thompson who runs a very interesting blog New Jetsetters. Café Martinique is the first installment of the James Bond Crush series.
The first time Deb saw the turquoise blue waters surrounding Bermuda from the air as a child, she was smitten. Already in love with the written word and writing itself, a black leather-bound diary was soon filled with treasured memories of the charming island and her stay at the luxurious Elbow Beach Hotel. Since then she has traveled far and wide, and written dozens of stories and reviews on exotic locations from around the globe. Deborah regularly contributes to New Jetsetters blog with a special emphasis on intimate and romantic destinations.
My husband and I went to the Bahamas probably 37 years ago, stayed at the Holiday Inn and on the beach we spotted a neat house. Walked over and saw that it was a restaurant. A night or two later we ate there…Cafe Martinique. I’ll never forget it. There were several rooms. I don’t remember my main course but the appetizer was chilled Mulligatawny Soup…it was in a little deep white ceramic thing inside another dish. My first chilled soup. And although I knew what Baked Alaska was, I had never had that. We had that for dessert. This was the most elegant place I had ever been except perhaps La Tour d’Argent in Paris. I was just sick when I heard that
it was torn down. All the magic gone forever. I have a picture of us at the table but it’s so close up you can’t really tell anything. Another neat thing…they had a small live band and in another room a lady got up from a table and sang “I left my heart in San Francisco” and they accompanied her. Other than a place in Mexico City, I had never seen this happen either. I enjoyed your story. Sometimes it’s better not to try to go back. I’ve looked in vain online for pictures….