The first Martini I ever drank was one I made for myself in college, on a lark. I’d just finished watching a midnight screening of an old Thin Man movie at the student union, and remember thinking afterward that any libation that generated the sort of devotion that Martinis sparked in William Powell—he seemed to spend half the movie mixing and pouring them–had to be worth a try. So I found a recipe in an ancient copy of an Old Mr. Boston bar book that had somehow become part of my fraternity’s book collection. I poured some gin and vermouth together over ice into a tall glass and stirred them together with a table fork. Then (again, with the fork) I strained the mixture into the nearest thing my roommates and I had to a cocktail glass: an oversize wine bubble we’d smuggled out of a T.G.I. Friday’s the weekend prior. There was no garnish. I took a sip, then took another, and immediately wondered what all the fuss was about.
All these year later, and the appeal of Martinis still eludes me. I don’t exactly know why. I’m a big fan of gin, so much so that I’ve been known to substitute it for vodka when I want to add some extra oomph to the healing power of a Sunday-morning Bloody Mary. And I drink more dry vermouth than anyone I know, though usually when it’s mixed on the rocks with a bit of sweet. But mix gin and vermouth together, in my experience, and what you end up with is a concoction that somehow manages to lack gin’s basic stopping power and vermouth’s headiness. What, exactly, is the point?
Maybe I just have a blind spot. If I do, though, I’m not the only one. How else to explain the lengths so many purported Martini fans will go to fiddle with the basic recipe? Nothing seems to be off limits. They’ll substitute vodka for the gin, say, or add olive brine to make the drink “dirty.” They’ll come up with fruity variations like “Appletinis” that sound positively undrinkable. Or they’ll write the vermouth out of the recipe entirely and drink what is essentially chilled gin (or vodka!). You don’t see Manhattan drinkers pulling stunts like that.
None of these variations are improvements, of course. Anyway, if you’re ever out and suddenly find yourself with no choice but to have a Martini, here’s what to tell the barman: stir three parts gin (Tanqueray works well) together with one part dry vermouth (Carpano, if he has it) over ice and strain onto a single large ice cube in an old fashioned glass or, failing that, into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist. The drink you’ll get will be better than what I served myself all those years ago at the fraternity house. Depending on your mood, it might actually not be half bad. Alternatively, if you have any discretion in the transaction at all, order yourself a Manhattan.