What do you make for someone who asks for something “different”? And what on earth do you do when someone whose regular order is a Vodka Martini places such an order? Obviously they’re not looking for a Remember the Maine.
I don’t envy Pepe Ruiz, the bartender at Chasen’s Restaurant (o. 1936-c. 1995) in Beverly Hills in 1970. First off, he’s got the Rat Pack as regulars. That right there would have been enough to make me quit tending bar forever, as the Rat Pack were notoriously heavy drinkers and celebrated purveyors of hijinx.
And one night you’ve got drunken gadabout Dean Martin waltzing up to the bar and requesting something different. See, you’ve got to understand the dilemma a bartender is thrown into when a Vodka Martini drinker asks for something different. What it really means is “I like drinks that don’t taste like much, so make me something else that doesn’t taste like much. But, you know, a different kind of not much.”
It’s not like when a bourbon drinker wings that drink order at you. Oh, you like American whiskey? Cool, let’s try some Irish whiskey. Here’s a Scotch cocktail. Whatever. But with vodka, what in the heck do you do? That was the conundrum that faced poor Pepe. The bar must have been slow that night. It had to have been, because Pepe whipped up for Dino what has to be one of the fussiest, most labor-intensive cocktails ever.
Let me describe the process for you: first, pull out your chilled cocktail glass. Next, add a little fino sherry to the glass and swirl it around to coat the inside of the glass entirely, and dump out the excess. Next, prepare yourself three large swaths of orange peel. Those fancy Y-peelers we all use at the bar these days probably weren’t commonly found in bars, so Pepe probably did his with a paring knife. Not that it matters, it just takes a little longer.
Okay, now for the fun part: you’ve got to light a match and flame those orange peels into the glass until every bit of the glass is coated in a slimy burnt orange film. This isn’t just a little spritz on top. Oh no, you’ve got to really cover the whole inside of the sherry-coated glass, and most sources will tell you that you’ve got to to it about eight times to really replicate Ruiz’s original creation. It’s a labor of love. Or a flame of love. Get it?
At this point Pepe is probably thinking, hoping that the drink doesn’t catch on. Because if it does, he’s going to have a whole team of angry co-workers to contend with. Trust me, nobody likes the guy who comes up with the super popular drink that’s also a pain in the ass to make. (Boy, was he in for a surprise.)
So once you’ve taken several minutes to prepare the glass, then you make the drink. And from here on out it’s pretty much your standard Vodka Martini preparation: Pour a measure of vodka into a vessel, add ice, and stir or shake as is your or your guest’s preference. Strain it into this sherry and burnt orange oil coated glass you’ve spent the better part of the night preparing, and away you go.
Now, as you can probably guess, Dino absolutely loved the drink and it was an immediate smash hit. And as a bartender, every time he walks through the door you’ve got to be thinking, “Shit, here comes Dean Martin again, I hope he’s finally found another drink he likes.” Because the last thing you want is for this monster to become some sort of modern classic. But your worst fears are confirmed the night that Frank Sinatra comes by and, on Dino’s recommendation, tries one for the first time.
Sinatra ordered one for every single person in the place. Classic Frank.
Flame of Love
• 2 oz vodka Directions In a chilled cocktail glass, add sherry and swirl until glass is coated. Dump out excess. Holding a lighter or lit match in one hand, squeeze the orange peel through the flame toward the interior of the sherry-coated glass, flaming the orange oils. Repeat until glass is coated in burnt orange oils. Add vodka to cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain and garnish with a final flamed orange peel.
• ¼ oz fino sherry
• 3 or so orange peels
In a chilled cocktail glass, add sherry and swirl until glass is coated. Dump out excess. Holding a lighter or lit match in one hand, squeeze the orange peel through the flame toward the interior of the sherry-coated glass, flaming the orange oils. Repeat until glass is coated in burnt orange oils. Add vodka to cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain and garnish with a final flamed orange peel.