“If you must tour the world of Suzie Wong by night, double-oh-seven, kindly inform our man here,” says M to James shortly after the triple-nippled Latin sex god, Francisco Scaramanga, has once again justified his million dollar fee. But even in 1974, the world of Suzie Wong was long gone. And today Wan Chai is nothing more than a handful of hostess bars staffed by Thai and Philippina women with small Buddhist shrines in their doorways for luck. So when Directory Enquiries found a listing for Bottoms Up, the site of Bond’s Hong Kong stakeout, I was more than a little surprised.
Like most men, consciously and unconsciously, by car, cigarette boat, helicopter, and jetski – by submarine and hydrofoil and tuk-tuk – I’ve been on the trail of Commander Bond my whole life. In grade school, my bus stopped outside the dry cleaners he visits in “Live and Let Die.” As a teenager, we lived near the original Universal Exports. Just last week, in Bangkok, I found myself sitting in his seat at Lumphini kickboxing stadium. I’ve worn a tuxedo, skied, skydived, and played baccarat in Monte Carlo. I’ve even passed the British Army’s marksman test, studied a dozen different languages, and registered the license plate “OHMSS” (failing, nonetheless, to transform my Beetle into a DB12). In Kowloon, I thought I might as well see if Bottoms Up had survived the ravages of morality.
The road turns out to be much more narrow than I expected, the club’s sign, strangely, much older. In the film, it’s quite modern, quite cheerful. This one – a cartoon snake charming a cartoon woman from a basket – seems to have been there since the ’50’s. With a black marker pen, someone has amputated 45 minutes from either end of the hours of operation and then scrawled, “As seen in The Man With The Golden Gun!!!!” Scaramanga needed just one golden shot to kill a man. To convince them to have a drink, Bottoms Up needs four exclamation points.
No less ominous is the descent down the tight black stairwell into the club’s red depths. As soon as I enter the first tiny room, despite a strong resemblance to the bar where Nick Nack discretely palmed the Solex, I know that in the movie, it must have been a set. There’s no space here for a camera, let alone a crew or the kind of lights they used in ’74. I suppose there were clues in the film – you can’t tend bar with six tiny bottles of Schweppes and a jar of swizzle sticks, or on your knees, or with your hair taped to your nipples. On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet the topless bartenders are indeed the very same women who served Gibson, the missing solar energy expert. With their laddered fishnets and straining seams, they speak less of international men of mystery and more of 24-hour topless pancake houses.
But I’m here now. I’ve traveled through space and time and fantasy. So in spite of the red velvet peeling from the walls, in spite of the cracked black leather on the chairs, I choose one of the seven hexagonal rooms honeycombed together and take a seat at its central, circular bar. Opposite, the dirty mirror reflects only how much more there is to a place than what is seen, how I can stand right where another man stood, sit right where he sat, and still not be where he was.
When, at last, I order my martini, she stirs it slowly.