With its seemingly infinite variations—the timeless two-to-one gin-to-vermouth ratio, the James Bond–approved shaken method, the sickly sweet dessert riffs of yore—few cocktails are as contested as the martini. Most of today’s bartenders would agree it’s best when balanced, frosty and invigorating with a welcome bite, no matter which ingredients mingle. And today the martini is experiencing its best rebirth yet at bars across the country.
Last fall, Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston added a “drink more martinis”–inspired section to its cocktail menu. Ten different takes on the tipple were presented, including Mr. Hoshi’s dry gin martini, an ode to a style the bar team had enjoyed in Tokyo in which the ice is seasoned with dry vermouth that is then served alongside the finished cocktail.
“It’s probably the most personal drink ordered in a bar. Anyone who drinks martinis with any regularity likely has a specific preference on how they should be made,” says Anvil general manager Terry Williams. “Gin versus vodka. How much vermouth? Shaken versus stirred. Olive or twist? Dirty? Those types of attachments present very delicate interactions between bartender and guest.”
Many drinkers will be pleased to hear that scoffing at vodka martinis as the bartending elite once did is no longer in fashion. The spirit is just as revered as gin and stars in such cocktails as the Dirty Program at Noble Experiment in San Diego. Bartender Adele Stratton describes it as a “refined yet ballsy spin on the dirty martini,” served in a copper coupe. House-made brine with a hint of serrano pepper is brought together with Absolut Elyx vodka and fino sherry. Try getting all cocktail snobby about that.
THE BEST BOTTLES TO BUY FOR YOUR HOME BAR
With more commercial and artisanal brands on the market, which should you reach for when mixing martinis at home? It depends on your taste and budget. If it’s gin you’re after, Nick Detrich, owner of Cane & Table in New Orleans, recommends the combo of Brooklyn gin and Yzaguirre dry vermouth. “With the amount of fresh citrus in the gin, it makes for a refreshing drink that’s still well textured,” he says. When it comes to vodka, Jim Kearns, partner at Slowly Shirley in New York, likes to pair it with a split of Dolin blanc and dry vermouths. “You get the best of both worlds,” Kearns says. “Blanc vermouth plays uniquely well with vodka. Aylesbury Duck vodka is the best on the market, as well as a fantastic value for the quality.” For supermarket shoppers, Tanqueray gin holds up well to more vermouth. And Stolichnaya, a Roger Moore Bond favorite, is the equally reliable counterpart for vodka lovers.
AMERICA’S BEST MARTINI BARS
DANTE, NEW YORK CITY
From five to six p.m. Monday through Friday, patrons of this New York bar savor absurdly cheap 99 cent martinis. Choose from Plymouth gin or Absolut vodka renditions garnished with a caper berry or a lemon knot.
VOL. 39, CHICAGO
Head bartender Jess Lambert offers half a dozen martini incarnations at this clubby hideaway inside Chicago’s Kimpton Gray Hotel. Try the elevated classic made with Fords gin, Dolin blanc vermouth and orange bitters.
PACIFIC COCKTAIL HAVEN, SAN FRANCISCO
The culinary predilections of bar owner Kevin Diedrich are reflected in his Manila sunshine martini, made with wheatgrass-infused Black Cow Pure Milk vodka melded with calamansi shrub, Licor 43 and apple juice.
At the restaurant in the Dewberry hotel, guests sip sidecar martinis made with Cathead vodka, Dolin dry vermouth and Gordy’s Fine Brine. Hotel bar manager Ryan Casey serves the drink with ice on the side and a caper-berry garnish.