SHAKEN… NOT STIRRED !
“I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.” Dorothy Parker
The root of the original Martini has often been debated. Some say that it started in Italy where in 1863, an Italian vermouth maker named Alessandro Martini created his product with his name. Although the East Coast still insists that the drink was invented at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, the most interesting legend is that the drink started in Martinez, California during the days of the Gold Rush in 1849. After hitting it big, a miner was looking to spend his riches on champagne. When he arrived at Martinez on his way to San Francisco, the bartender served him a local special called the “Martinez Special.” When he finally arrived in San Francisco, the miner requested the same drink. Unfamiliar, the miner instructed the bartender on the “Martinez Special” which is one part of very dry Sauterne wine and three parts of Gin, stirred with ice and finished with an olive. Through the years “Martinez” was adapted to Martini and here you have an American legend, a drink that became extremely popular when it was first published in the Bartender’s Manual in the 1880s.
By the Roaring 20’s the Martini was becoming the drink of choice for the city dweller, and it reached its most recognizable mixture of London dry gin and dry vermouth, stirred in a mixing glass with ice cubes, an addition of bitters, and strained into that signature-shaped martini glass. As the country was becoming more sophisticated in their tastes, they were now facing more societal restrictions. Prohibition ironically is attributed to the rise of the drink, as the illegal manufacturing of gin was prominent. Even Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt hoarded bottles of gin, rum, and scotch in the closets of both of his homes in New York and Georgia.
In a poignant essay called, There’s Something About a Martini, author Max Rudin described the phenomenon as an era where both sexes were able to finally drink together. “Outlawing liquor had put the gentlemen-only saloon and hotel bar out of business and replaced it with a new cocktail culture where women drank with men. It would ultimately prompt a drinking-buddy camaraderie between the sexes.”
At this time country was experiencing a spike in economic growth in which the nation’s total wealth more than doubled. With more Americans living in cities, and departing from agriculture, our society was transitioning into an affluent but unfamiliar “consumer society,” that was edgy and urban, and racy. Hollywood movies often displayed the Art Deco cocktail shaker and the signature martini glass as a symbol of elegance and class. If you wanted to get in on the action, the city was the place to be, especially if you were a woman. The new 20’s woman drank, smoked and were more sexually open than previous generations. The image of the flapper woman with her short bob, thin eyebrows, and a long cigarette and martini glass in tow defined the era. It was now in trend to be a socialite partying in the same circles as well known gangsters in speakeasies. Jazz was now a music of rebellion and flappers would go to Harlem to listen to its dangerous and vulgar rhythms.
Martinis have a way of attracting that dark type of psyche that permeates the space of all kinds of artists, such as writers like Ernest Hemingway, who had an incredible love for his martinis. One of Hemingway’s most famous fictional characters, Frederic Henry, said that martinis were his drink of choice because “I’ve never tasted anything so cool and clean…They make me feel civilized.” One of history’s most refined chaps would be James Bond, whose infamous drink of choice was a vodka martini “shaken not stirred,” catapulted its popularity. Every man secretly wants to be James Bond, and every woman wants to bed him, so why not share a martini to “bond” the both of you?
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the “three martini lunch” was a widespread practice for powerful executives and businessmen, who had enough leisure time to consume cocktails; office bar carts pushed by secretaries were commonplace. Mad Men was not only excellent television, but it showed the world what life was like when getting drunk at work was an accepted practice for swanky ad execs, keeping the martini within the realm of class, sophistication, and danger.
Martinis also have a great way of merging world politics. There have been countless leaders who’ve had a penchant for the cocktail. Churchhill famously said, “The only way to make a martini was with ice-cold gin and a bow in the direction of France.” Many have said that Richard Nixon loved martinis, but couldn’t handle them very well, as he liked to prepare them seven parts gin and one part vermouth. The most famous Martini loving U.S. president would have to be FDR. Rumored to have had a martini kit wherever he went, FDR put all of his stocked illegal alcohol to use, when he would host a daily “Martini Hour” at the White House even though his bartending skills have been noted as notoriously bad. During WWII when allied leaders met with FDR in Tehran, he proposed a toast to Joseph Stalin with a dry martini. Although he obliged, Stalin described the cocktail as “cold to the stomach.” As the leader of the Free World and also the President that repealed Prohibition, FDR probably didn’t have time to refine his bartending skills, although he knew for sure that a good martini is always a great start to a fair negotiation. Creative speculation would say that this was probably something that he picked up from watching noir films: Every serious conversation is started with fixing a drink no matter if you’re in an office or a dark apartment.
As the century went on, the martini cocktail ultimately went out of fashion. The drink lost its dry taste and edge, as the 80’s and 90’s bartenders in New York City popularized cocktails that tweaked the martini template, with flavored vodkas, juices, and liqueurs. What remained was the iconically shaped, but functionally problematic, glass, filled with all kinds of accessories and colors it became an absolute spectacle. William Grimes from The New York Times would describe it as, “It’s hard to imagine, but once there was a time when real people simply approached the bar and ordered a dry martini. There were no set designers, no sound engineers and credits did not roll at the end of the drink.” Adding a “tini” to end of any syrup induced drink in a martini glass became a symbol of girls night out in the big city. Other drinks such as the Cosmopolitan took the tini out of the name but still kept the glass, allowing the martini’s influence to keep things still classy while killing its derivative.
With craft cocktails making a comeback, the dry martini has remained a symbol of sophistication. And just like our beloved noir characters, there’s always a problem to solve, but first, let’s have a martini.