Prowl the capital’s most pedigreed locale.
It’s where the Royal Family calls home, alongside the most expensive real estate on this planet. As intriguing to the retrophile as the modernist, walking through London’s noblest locale there’s the palpable sense of being immersed in a rare breed of London culture that’s been preserved for centuries. St James, AKA Clubland, is where the first members’ clubs were born, and still reign in their purest form. It is the heart of bespoke, pomp and pageantry; a monument to all that is great about London through the centuries – from the red carpet of The Mall to London’s most charming parks and magnificent palaces: a sea of blue and green plaques bobbing on the signature 17th century neoclassical facades; a snapshot of Dickensian passages, world firsts and London lasts. St James is a district of districts – from the cigar shops of St James Street, to the tailors of Jermyn Street, the royal residences to its south, the members’ club artery of Pall Mall, the art hub surrounding Duke Street and the newly-emerged fashion and design trailblazers of Haymarket. It is the British sister to the international luxury locales of Mayfair or Knightsbridge – its enduring prowess and stature such that it’s never seen the need to change or evolve, thus retaining its regal, traditional English character.
St James’s is not so much a retail hub as retail theatre history. The purveyors of St James’s Street date back to the 17th century, as evidenced by the human scales at wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd that have weighed Lord Byron, Napoleon II, the Aga Khan and Vivien Leigh (search out the entrance to Pickering Place, the smallest square in the UK) and the ‘best hatters in the world’, John Lock & Co with their mini-museum and original head measuring devices; and be sure to ask for a backstage tour of John Lobb, the bespoke shoemakers. Wander the length of Jermyn Street to discover tailors to rival Savile Row and don’t miss the former red light district-turned-designer shopping Mecca of Haymarket. Watch out for the steady stream of black cabs pulling up outside the former Burberry headquarters, relaunched as the relocated global fashion destination Dover Street Market: today the cult boutique designer department store offers a quasi-transcendental, fully immersive retail experience. It stands opposite one of central London’s most ambitious new developments – St James’s Market.
Clubland and Coffee Houses
Today the most traditional of London’s luxury locales, it’s astounding to conceive that it was once one of its most trailblazing nightlife hubs. Pall Mall is the thoroughfare where the members’ club phenomenon was born back in the 18th century, taking over from the fashionable coffee houses that proliferated this aristocratic area, and lending it the enduring nickname ‘Clubland’. Today, alongside original gentlemen’s only institutions such as White’s, The Carlton Club and The Reform Club, stand olde worlde legends Wilton’s, Fortnum and Mason and The Ritz where you can savour classically indulgent fare in legendary settings. Alongside these a plethora of modern establishments offer a smorgasbord of history in the making – among them Le Caprice, The American Bar, The Wolseley, Sake No Hana and Chutney Mary, and the eateries of the new St James Market: Aquavit, Duck and Waffle and Veneta. Or why not sip a martini in the bar where Ian Fleming is said to have coined the expression, ‘Shaken, not stirred,’: Dukes? Then dance ’til dawn at the equally legendary Scotch of St James, once the stomping ground for artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
Art and Esoterics
If St James’ is a series of districts, then its art hub lies around Duke and King Streets. Here you’ll find Christie’s auction house – bidding highlights envelop Post War and Contemporary art, fine jewellery, Russian art and rare watches – and the domino effect of dozens of surrounding independent galleries and antique shops specialising in everything from Ming vases to Cindy Sherman (via the just-opened Skarskedt Gallery), then step into the brutalist vision of The White Cube Gallery on Mason’s Yard. Down on The Mall, explore the world-famous ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) and Mall Galleries. Literature lovers will like leafing through the area’s many rare book shops, Hatchard’s on Piccadilly (the oldest bookshop in Britain) and the coffee table tomes at Maison Assouline. Don’t miss the renowned London Library on St James’s Square – it’s among the most comprehensive independent lending libraries in the world.
Pomp and Pageantry
Designed as the world’s most impressive red carpet leading from Admiralty Arch to Buckingham Palace, The Mall has ushered heads of state, world religious figures and, in 2022, will converge the centrepiece of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations over the four day Bank Holiday. Underneath is a sequence of tunnels leading directly from Buckingham Palace to important government buildings including Downing Street, but overground you’ll discover the sights of Horseguards, the Queen Victoria Memorial and Constitution Hill – if a street could be a royal roll call, this would be it. It’s palpable that you’ve arrived in the most exclusive village in the world – here Clarence House, Buckingham Palace and St James’ Palace – built by Henry VIII on the site of a leper hospital in the 1500s – all still house the Royal Family, while further north you’ll discover the private palaces built in this aristocratic hood by their aristocratic pretenders. Duck past the ICA to discover the statues lining Waterloo Place, the world’s most expensive real estate at Carlton Terrace and the elegance of St James’ Square. The area isn’t just rife with gargoyles and blue plaques but the lesser-spotted green ones (watch out for one on Pall Mall marking the site of the world’s first gas light). On Jermyn Street, don’t miss the jewel-like, 17th Century St James’s Church, one of Christopher Wren’s only non City establishments, and said to be his personal favourite, and the statue of the prototypal dandy in his spiritual homeland and original stomping ground, Beau Brummell.