In Live and Let Die, James Bond spends an evening in Harlem, accompanied by Felix Leiter.
Harlem is a large neighborhood on the northern section of Manhattan.
After Martinis at the St Regis, they take a bus to Harlem. First stop is Sugar Ray’s which is on Seventh Avenue at 123 Street.
This was a real spot, owned by the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Bond and Leiter “walked under the canopy” and slip into a booth.
This photo is from 1950. For more on Sugar Ray’s check this post from Harlem Bespoke and this article in the New York Times.
Bond and Leiter have Scotch-and-soda – with Haig and Haig Pinchbottle scotch. They listen in on a conversation at a neighboring table – one that is cringe-inducing to read 60 years later.
Next, they go to Ma Frazier’s on Seventh (“further up the avenue” Leiter says) for the “best food in Harlem, or at any rate it used to be.”
The restaurant is “cheerful” and they eat a meal of “Little Neck Clams and Fried Chicken Maryland with bacon and sweet corn.” which Leiter refers to as “the national dish.”
From my limited research, I haven’t found a real Ma Frazier’s in Harlem. This map from about 20 years prior to Bond’s visit points out a few locations mentioned by Fleming and might provide some clues:
Next to Seventh Avenue, you’ll notice Gladys’ Clam House, and then up a block to the left, you’ll see Tillies, which specialized in fried chicken. I wonder if Fleming based Ma Frazier’s on a couple of places. There could’ve actually been a Ma Frazier’s, but I haven’t found any reference to it. You can see above that they would’ve passed Tillies on their way to the Savoy.
On their third stop of the evening, they hit the Savoy Ballroom.
By the time they left the restaurant it was ten-thirty and the Avenue was almost deserted. They took a cab to the Savoy Ballroom, had a Scotch-and-soda, and watched the dancers.
Most modern dances were invented here,’ said Leiter. ‘That’s how good it is. The Lindy Hop, Truckin’, the Susie Q, the Shag. All started on that floor. Every big American band you’ve ever heard of is proud that it once played here – Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Galloway, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson. It’s the Mecca of jazz and jive.’
They had a table near the rail round the huge floor. Bond was spellbound. He found many of the girls very beautiful. The music hammered its way into his pulse until he almost forgot what he was there for.
Savoy Ballroom Vignette (Video featuring interior shots of Savoy)
The Savoy closed in 1958, and was torn down. There is a plaque that marks the location.
Leiter mentions that they won’t be able to go to Small’s Paradise, (real place, remained open until 1986) which you see on the map up on the right, on the other side of Seventh, but they do go into Yeah Man across the street. There isn’t much to be found about this place, which again was a real spot, other than the advice on the map above to “Go late!”
Finally, they end up at The Boneyard, a “small place on Lenox Avenue”, and unfortunately we’re not given more details on the location. Part of me wonders if Fleming based The Boneyard on the Lenox Lounge, a Lenox Avenue landmark that was in its prime during that time.
It’s a complete guess on my part, but it fits the type of place Fleming was describing.