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On Martinis 🍸
Six years of one chic drink to rule them all.
I started to drink martinis in 2017, when I started to eat oysters after my brother passed, when I was sick of going to cocktail bars after two years of accidental cocktail writing. My preferences developed early: gin, usually 50-50 with dry vermouth, garnished by an olive.
Because I was still a cocktail writer up to 2019, I developed a practice when I was drinking for work: one from the menu, one martini. This was a way of assessing both the bar’s creativity and their ability to put out a classic. It shouldn’t be surprising that a lot of bartenders knew the ins and outs of their house list but failed with classics.
I’ve never been disappointed by a martini unless a male bartender told me that he was going to make me a martini his way, rather than my way. This would usually involve some sort of Vesper-like approach with the addition of vodka or some split of vermouths, and I would never enjoy it.
A martini is supposed to be made to the drinkers’ preferences; a martini-drinker needs to know her preferences and how to assert them. The significant other of a martini-drinker should also know these things, as well as how to make one.
When I say I’ve never been disappointed except in these cases, I mean that there are bad martinis but they’re still useful. A martini always tells you something about where you’re drinking it, the person making it, and how the person making it perceives you: Do they not believe, like those men I mentioned, that you actually know what you like? Do they know the questions to ask and are not asking them, because they’re getting ready to close and people have been driving them nuts all day? Do they assume you want it shaken because of James Bond, because that’s the context most clientele brings in?
A warm martini tells the saddest story. So many things have to go wrong for a martini to be served anything less than icy cold. Everyone knows when and where and by whom I’ve been served a warm martini, because I never shut up about the horror. (I’ll only share this in person, off the record.)
An over-diluted martini tells me the bartender lacks what I’ve referred to as, like they do in baseball, “the intangibles.” They may know the right proportions and to stir, but don’t feel the right temperature emerge and overdo it.
I met my husband when I was a cocktail writer and he was a bartender, and because of this, I drink the best martinis in our house. He’s never tried to tell me what I like, nor has he ever served me a warm or over-diluted martini.
I’m in shock that I’m not yet sick of martinis. Unless I’m very ill (or very hungover), I’ll always be in the mood for a martini. It will always taste better than anything else I could put in my mouth. I will always feel the first sip throughout my body, providing release. I will always enjoy popping a gin-tinged, firm-skinned olive into my mouth. There’s nothing better than a martini while I cook, the olives providing my appetizer.
It was in February of 2019 that I got a martini glass tattooed on my right ring finger, a show of absolute, permanent dedication. I’d walked into the tattoo shop that day to get a line from an Eileen Myles poem tattooed: “this sailor will never get scurvy.” The placement wasn’t making any sense, so finally I made the commitment and got a knuckle tattoo. A commitment I knew I could stand by, or even explain with wistfulness if one day, by chance, I no longer enjoy martinis.
Thinking about martinis makes me think about all the traveling I used to do, because it was writing about alcohol that got me invited on the press trips that enabled me to go anywhere at all. It was writing about alcohol that led me to my husband, and the first thing I ever did in front of him was break a glass.
Now that martinis have gotten cool—or so they say—I haven’t noticed any changes in how bars or bartenders approach them. They’re still a way of measuring, a way of understanding a bar and how you’re perceived within it. Martinis can go in and out of fashion, but for those of us who’ve chosen it as our drink, it’s because of how it allows us to read and be read. It’s a cocktail not of judgment, but of analysis and perception. This is why the martini is eternally chic.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen will be a recipe and guide for making vegan pancakes, especially during this time when you may not want to use eggs for a frivolous breakfast. I’ve been thinking about and doing egg replacement for far longer than I’ve been drinking martinis. See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Nothing but I was so happy and heartened to find this newsletter quoted in the great Ligaya Mishan’s recent T piece on hospitality. Hers is a deep, wide-ranging, and entertaining read, as always.
Janet Malcolm’s Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory for the newsletter I’m working on about creativity.
Here’s an older song that’s new to me that I am enjoying so much! “La Nuit Américaine” by Lescop.
Nothing very thrilling, though it’s an exciting time for greens in Puerto Rico—we’re flush with greens! And beautiful little eggplants.