James Bond has it all wrong.
The British special agent famously drinks martinis—enough martinis, in fact, to kill basically anyone who drank that much. His might be the most memorable drink order in the history of pop culture. But he’s got his specifications all wrong.
Bond’s first offense is his most legendary. The spy always orders a martini “shaken, not stirred.” “What’s so bad about that?” you might be asking, since most martinis are shaken, and bartenders likely won’t prompt patrons to ask whether they prefer or abhor it. However, the process of shaking both over-dilutes the alcohol (who wants that?) and over-aerates the spirits, which can hugely affect the flavor.
Next, there’s the issue of dirty or dry. Most cocktail snobs will argue a real martini is made with a scant splash of olive juice or none at all, “perfect” (equal parts dry and sweet vermouth), or dry (with more dry vermouth).
And finally, there’s the issue of the spirit. Real martinis are made with gin, not vodka. Come on, James Bond. You’re like 90 years old at this point. You should know how to order a martini.
The Murky Origins of the Martini
The legend of the martini might be the most charming and disagreed upon of all the drinking legends, and, oddly enough, stemmed from a drink that wasn’t a martini at all, but a martinez.
As one iteration of the story goes, a tired, dirty miner, parched from a day spent gold mining, simply asked his bartender for something refreshing. The cocktail produced was what we now know as the martinez: made with gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and two types of bitters. It’s likely that the original iteration was simpler—without the maraschino liqueur and probably with only one type of bitters—but it’s mainly where that’s been debated for some time now.
The inhabitants of Martinez, California, of course claim the drink was invented there (they even have a plaque to make it seem more official), but the more widely accepted theory is that the legendary bartender Jerry Thomas at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco created the drink for a miner traveling to Martinez. (Thomas later went on to create a book that’s widely considered to be the be-all and end-all for cocktails, boringly named The Bar-Tender’s Guide. It was published in 1860.)
The martinez has been described as a gin manhattan—and the two are extremely similar. How it became what we know today as a martini seems to be a complete mystery, as the two are not very similar at all. And certainly neither has anything to do with chocotinis, appletinis, or any other -tini you can think of, unless serving them in the same glass counts.
Where and How to Order a Martini (Stirred, Not Shaken)
Classic martinis are stiff and bracing and have largely fallen out of favor as other, far tastier cocktails have become a staple of every self-respecting bar list. But there’s something to be said for the person who orders a martini at happy hour. I’m not sure what that something is, but it’s something formidable and classic that commands a certain level of respect—of course, depending on the tippler. It’s up to you to decide whether the person who ordered that martini is a tenured drinker or an inexperienced one (confession: when I knew nothing about drinking, I often ordered martinis).
You can probably order a martini just about anywhere on this earth, but to be safe, order a reallygood martini at any one of these places:
The Bombay Club, New Orleans, LA
Not only does its menu pay homage to the martini’s roots, it saunters off to explore a host of different iterations. The signature Bombay Club martini is almost a martinez (though an actual martinez is also on the menu) but made with orange bitters and an orange twist in place of a lemon. Also: cocktails taste better when you’re listening to jazz, which you can do here every single night of the week.
Drumbar, Chicago, IL
Aside from just its cocktails, Drumbar has a lot going for it, like it’s almost-too-cool speakeasy vibe with big leather couches—and also the fact that it’s perched on a hotel rooftop in downtown Chicago. In the summer, sit outside, enjoy the view, and sip its 50/50 martini, appropriately made with gin but probably not stirred unless you ask. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
ABV, San Francisco, CA
ABV is really cool and chic inside, and it also opens at 2 p.m., which sets you up for the perfect thing: a 4 p.m. cocktail. If you’re cool, chic, and don’t have anywhere to be at 4 p.m., you can order a Gibson, which is a martini—just with pickled cocktail onions instead of olives or a twist.
Then again, you can always just make one at home. But that’s probably not as fun.
Classic Gin Martini Recipe
2 ¼ oz. gin (like Bombay or Tanqueray)
¾ oz. dry vermouth (like Dolin)
Olives or a lemon twist for garnish
Fill a cocktail glass with ice water, or put it in the freezer to chill. Add the gin and vermouth to a mixing glass, and fill with ice. Stir vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into your chilled glass. Add the olive or lemon twist; swipe the twist around the outside edge of the glass before dropping it in to express the oils and add flavor and aroma. Drink up. You deserve it.
Martinez Cocktail Recipe
1 ½ oz. gin (like Ransom Old Tom Gin)
1 oz. sweet vermouth (like Punt e Mes)
¼ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters
Build all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist, expressed over the top of the drink, and a Luxardo maraschino cherry. Contemplate how the hell the martini could have anything to do with the cocktail you are currently drinking—but then again, it tastes good, so does it matter?
Photo by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon