I do not remember the first time I ordered a martini or what possessed me to do so. I grew up in a suburban town in Georgia. I didn’t have my first drink until I was a freshman in college, and then it was vodka mixed with an alarming amount of cranberry juice. On my first date with the man who would become my husband, I ordered a “jack and ginger.” I have yet to live that order down.
It took nearly four years for me to realize that I didn’t like sweet drinks, eliminating most cocktails from any kind of regular rotation. By age 27, whiskey (or dark liquor of any kind for that matter) was no longer my friend. The point to vodka seemed to be that it was tasteless, which wasn’t appealing. I vaguely remember someone explaining that a martini should always be made with gin. Without gin, it was not a martini. Then a friend of mine ordered a martini, not dirty, up, with olives. I said, “two of those.” The rest is history.
A few weeks ago at Maison Premiere, a New Orleans-styled bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I noticed a new martini on the menu: “The Old King Cole Martini, $20, Old Raj, Dolin Dry, Orange Bitters, Castelvetrano Olives, Mixed Table-Side, 2-drink limit per order.” I was curious.
The genesis of the martini cocktail is murky; the mixologist at Maison Premiere went with the story that the martini was created by a bartender in 1911 at the Old King Cole bar in the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. Others claim the name comes from the “Martini & Rossi” vermouth brand. Another theory comes from the gold-rush town of Martinez. When a miner struck gold, he asked the bartender to make him a celebratory drink. The bartender threw together what he had on hand: gin and vermouth.
The history of the martini is not so important—what is important is ordering it correctly. If you’d like to experience a martini the right way, follow these simple steps:
- Gin is the spirit. If you don’t like gin, the martini is not for you.
- Dry English gin is the best option.
- “Dirty” martinis are not an option. Order with olive, or with a twist.
- Under no circumstances consume more than two martinis in one evening. As Dorothy Parker said, “I like to have a martini, two at the most. Three I’m under the table, four I’m under my host.”
At Maison Premiere, the table-side service was the reason for the high price-tag. The indulgent experience (listening to the bartender explain the drink as he stirred—notice, never shaken) embodies the appeal of the martini: it is meant for those who like a real drink, with no bells and whistles. It is meant to be enjoyed slowly. It pairs well with oysters and steak. It pairs well with New York City. For me, it embodies my maturation into adulthood—ordering a martini means knowing exactly what you want, and not being afraid to say so.