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. It 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 fashion and design trailblazers of Haymarket.
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, 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 & Mason and The Ritz. Alongside these, a plethora of modern establishments offer a smorgasbord of history in the making – among them Le Caprice, The Wolseley, Sake No Hana and Chutney Mary, and the eateries of the all-new St James Market. And you can sip a martini in the bar where Ian Fleming is said to have coined the expression ‘Shaken, not stirred:’ Dukes.
St James Market
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 and Vivien Leigh, and the ‘best hatters in the world’, John Lock & Co with their mini-museum. Ask for a backstage tour of bespoke shoemakers John Lobb. 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, which was relaunched as Dover Street Market last March. It’s followed by St James Market, home to the flagships of Smeg, Assos and Jigsaw Emporium.
Berry Bros and Rudd
Art and esoterics
St. James’ art hub lies around Duke and King Streets. Here you’ll find Christie’s auction house, 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 – currently celebrating its 175th anniversary, it’s among the most comprehensive independent lending libraries in the world.
Institute of Contemporary Art
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, last June, 10,000 guests celebrating The Queen’s 90th birthday, towards Buckingham Palace. Underneath are a sequence of tunnels leading directly from Buckingham Palace to important government buildings, but overground you’ll discover the sights of Horseguards, 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 – 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 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, by Christopher Wren and said to be his personal favourite, and the statue of the prototypal dandy in his spiritual homeland, Beau Brummell.