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Contemporary Martinis

On a recent trip to Atlanta, I decided to do an experiment. I ordered seven martinis over a period of as many days, all at different places.

Only one - a dirty martini - was made correctly. Everything OK, in proportion, no confusion on the part of the bartender..

One place served it sans olives. Had to request some.

Three places assumed I wanted my martini made with vodka.

Four martinis came with ice in the glass.

Six came with pimento-stuffed olives.

One place didn't know how to make a wet martini. I told the bartender how to prepare it and then had her make another just to reinforce the learning process.

I was a bit amazed at this. Am I just an old fuddy-duddy or do bartenders just not make many of these these days?

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  1. When I find a bartender who can make a great martini, he/she gets my regular business. I don't even bother to order them at most places, since they are often poorly made.

    1. Hmmm... maybe I should conduct more research : )

      6 Replies
      1. re: Jimmy Buffet

        Maybe, it's a regional thing. It may also depend upon if you're giving the order to a waitperson as the drink order prior to dinner, or if you're in the bar ordering directly from the bartender.

        Even though there has been some resurgence in gin popularity the last few years, vodka has dominated the clear spirit category for probably the last 20-30 years or more. If not asked which spirit is preferred, I believe the assumption is still vodka. I realize it was an experiment, but I am always clear as to the specific spirit and garnish. At an average of $10-$15 a martini, I want to make sure I get what I want.

        I'm a little baffled by the ice though. If there are a few random small ice chips in the martini, that could result from the classic style of pouring, but ice cubes? No.

        1. re: redchile

          I think that any decent bartender will NOT assume you want vodka, unless you ask for one of those girly-froo-froo martinis. Traditional martinis have always been made with gin. At the very least, I expect him/her to ask which I prefer before making the drink.

          1. re: mojoeater

            I usually get around this by specifying the kind of gin I want. "Plymouth martini, up, with a twist please." If i get a response that makes me wonder, I usually just bail out to "knob creek on the rocks."

            I'm aghast at the martinis on the rocks. That's just criminal.

            1. re: ccbweb

              The ice cubes blew me away also, but one place confessed that most of the orders they get for martinis are the "apple martinis" and other flavored drinks, which most of the clientele liked with ice (maybe because of Atlanta heat? I dunno).

              1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                It must be the heat. And they must stop calling them martinis! Did they serve the drinks in a martini stem with ice or in a lowball glass? (I'm not even going to consider the notion that they might have served your martini in a high ball or a double old fashioned glass...)

                1. re: ccbweb

                  Glassware was, for the most part, right on. But one of the places - the place that did not put any olives in - served it in a brushed stainless steel martini "glass". Ugh. The desire to be trendy sometimes just goes over the top.

      2. No, you're not an old fuddy-duddy...you're absolutely right. I can think of only 2 places where the bartenders make exceptional martinis: Red Square in Atlantic City and the Merion Inn in Cape May.

        Other than those 2, if I want a good martini I make my own. :)

        5 Replies
        1. re: MartiniQueen

          >> if I want a good martini I make my own. :)

          Ditto. Guess I'll have to start packing my own supplies for trips ; )

          1. re: MartiniQueen

            How did Red Square make them? Did they use gin or Russian vodka?

            1. re: tom porc

              They used vodka...and you really have your choice of vodkas there! My personal favorites are Zyr (Russian) and Siku (Greenland). They also offer vodka flights, which is an excellent way to sample different vodkas. I also tried a martini with a vegetable/hot pepper infused vodka (can't remember the brand) that was fabulous. Very spicy and a perfect pre-dinner cocktail.

            2. re: MartiniQueen

              "Other than those 2, if I want a good martini I make my own."

              Isn't "good" pretty subjective here? I mean, you use vodka and only a teensy bit of vermouth in your drink. That's not even a martini to me.

              I think in order to get the drink you want, you have to specifically ask for it. Bartenders aren't mindreaders, especially with so many people wanting bone dry Grey Goose "martinis". Don't even get me started on the fruit juice concoctions, served in a cocktail glass, that people now call martinis...

              The real martini drinkers are few and far between.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                if you really want to see blank stares, try asking most of them for a Martinez http://jbou2.spaces.live.com/blog/cns...

            3. A martini is such a broad name these days. Most martini's are mixed drinks in a martini glass.
              Yes, a classic martini is a Gin martini with dry vermouth or (wet). In my experience now when someone orders a martini they really want vodka up no vermouth. However I would never assume this and would always clarify. Every bartender has a starting point the first time someone ordered a cubre libre from me I had no clue (believe it or not the jerk actually made me look it up rather than tell me it was a rum/coke w/lime) Every place I have worked serves pimento stuffed olives, or choice of blue cheese olives.
              I wouldn't say that bartenders don't make many martini's these days I would just say we are in the age where you can order a coffee about a billion different ways and the same goes for martinis. We don't just have vodka, gin, rum, etc. We now have flavors, flavors, flavors of everything.
              The best thing to do when ordering is to say I like to have a Gin Martini up wet & dirty. Sometimes you might have to explain what wet is but hopefully the bartender is smart and is able to retain the information for the next guest that asks.

              4 Replies
              1. re: chrystaldawn

                >> hopefully the bartender is smart and is able to retain the information for the next guest that asks.

                Exactly. The bartender who I instructed in making a wet martini seemed really happy to have learned how to do it. Its amazing that bartenders can remember as many drinks as they can.

                1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                  A good bartender has all of the skills _and_ isnt' afraid to ask or to look something up. The other night my wife and I went to one of our local haunts and she wanted a French 75. The waiter had no idea what is was but went to ask the bartender who we were gratified to see immediately get out his book. What she got was, she reported, the best French 75 she's ever tasted.

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    I think the ratio of bartenders not knowing what a true martini is equal to how many customers do not know what a martini is. A true martini drinker will usually specify in accordance to the what (gin, or *gasp* vodka, garnish preference) and how (shaken, stirred, etc) they want their drink. I am not surprised that the martini results varied as they did.

                    When I first started working in a rest/bar this is what I was taught to ask upon the request for a martini:

                    #1: Gin or vodka (this was the beginning of the vodka craze and saved us all a lot of explaining in the long run to what an actual martini is)?
                    #2: Any particulart type of gin/vodka?
                    #3: Up or on the rocks, shaken or stirred (up was 80% of the vote-but some do like ice, go figure)?
                    #4: Garnish (olive, onion, twist)?

                    I know many here are all for the traditional gin/olive/up martini but you will be amazed at how many different combinations people preferred. Sometimes vodka/up/2 onions 1 olive were ordered numerous times. Now this brings me back to the ratio thing. I know, from many rest. years of experience and customer awareness, that an onion in a martini makes it a Gibson. But the majority does not know (or care for that matter), they just know what they like, name or not. I have come across many customers who will look me straight in the eye and order a "martini", when I go to question number one they look at me blankly and say something along the lines of : "I think it has vodka, it tastes like apples/watermelon/strawberry...". You get the point. I think that the trend of putting cocktails into martini glasses has completely diluted bartenders and customers equally in what a martini is.

                    1. re: cocktailqueen77

                      When I trained bartenders, I always told them to ask what BRAND of gin or vodka the customer wanted. Not only did you ensure that the custo received the proper drink, but it was an automatic upsell. Very few people say "the cheapest thing you've got" when it comes to a martini.

              2. Are you saying a pimento stuffed olive is incorrect?

                10 Replies
                1. re: TroyTempest

                  Personally, I think it is. The bartender who taught me to make them years ago insisted that if I only had pimento stuffed olives, to pull the pimento out first. But the times may be a changing.

                  1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                    That's funny, hailing from the northeast and considering myself something of a connoisseur of cocktails, it never occurred to me that a proper martini should NOT be served with a pimento stuffed olive. Now that I think of it, I consider the pimento a necessary dash of color.

                    I admire a bartender who remembers how I like my cocktails - one who knows that I am probably going to want a gin martini, made with Boodles, in proper proportions (neither dry nor dirty), but who will also interpret from my contemplative squint as I sit down at the bar whether I might be contemplating a sazarac, old fashion or manhattan.

                    Jimmy - while the martini needs your guardian and stewardship, I find myself on a crusade to reintroduce the sazerac...

                    1. re: Keefer Lucas

                      It's difficult to get a good Martini, and to make one yourself at times.

                      Over the 160+ years that the Martini has been around it has gone from equal parts of gin and SWEET vermouth, plus bitters; to equal parts gin and dry vermouth plus bitters at the turn of the 20th century, a 'fitty Fitty' ; to as much as 14:1 gin to dry vermouth with no bitters in the 1950's ... slowly it is shifting and seems to now be at around a 3:1 gin to dry vermouth with the bitters coming back as well. Although many good high end cockatil bars may ask if you want a 'fitty fitty' or a modern rendition.

                      Also many garnishes have been used. Cherries, plain green olives, pimento stuffed green olives, green olives stuffed with everything from garlic to jalapeƱos to blue cheese. Also twists of lemon and occasionally other citrus.

                      While I like martinis a lot I have become so picky about which gin and which vermouth and which bitters that I now only drink them at home where I have 40+ types of gin, four dry vermouths, and 12 types of bitters to choose from.

                      Sometimes I prefer my gin on the rocks with a slight dash of bitters.. a Pink Gin.

                      To respond to Keefer: A well made Sazerac is a gift from the gods. As is a great Manhattan. Both are alive and well in NYC.

                      1. re: JMF

                        The latter drinks (Sazerac and Manhattan) as well as Martinis are also alive and well in San Francisco. I've lived out here going on a year now and while there are many things about the city I could do without, the bartenders here are simply remarkable on the whole and I so look forward to cocktails before dinner now (as opposed to looking forward to the cocktails when we got home from dinner out in other places I've lived).

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          We have entered the New or Second Golden Age of Cocktails and it makes for great times and great drinks, some are new and many of the old classics have been revitalized or taken back to their traditional roots. I love it.

                        2. re: JMF

                          Here's the thing: Classical mixology and the drinks that make up the classical mixologists canon are NOT difficult to make. They are easy to understand if one wishes to do so yet are difficult to master. A prerequisite might be an adept and perhaps mature palate. This is why they are beyond the ken of most 20 something bartenders.
                          What do I look for in a bartender in a bar I've never been to? The sunken eyes, the angry stare and the gravelly voice of someone too long from her cigs and bourbon. Barring that, I want to see the gray hair on his head.
                          Then, and only then will I order a Manhattan, but only if I see the bottle of Angostura somewhere. Otherwise I'll have an IPA in a bottle and a sidecar of their best (visible) bourbon. If she cocks her eye or gives me a knowing glance or wink, I'm game and will let them make me pretty much anything they want.
                          It's the doe-eyed twit that I'm most afraid of. Her drinks will always be awful, usually colorful and too sweet.
                          Give me a bitter bartender, one who can pour jaundice with one hand and a bourbon for herself while reaching over and lighting my cigarette.


                        3. re: Keefer Lucas

                          Another funny thing I have noticed...I rarely meet people who like wet martinis. Mention "vermouth" and it seems one will get a fairly strong reaction.

                          Depending on the characteristics of the gin and how it needs to be balanced, I love wet ones and usually prefer them to their dry counterpart any day. Made some dynamite ones last night for my wife's birthday and I believe I may do the same tonight...


                        4. re: Jimmy Buffet

                          Any opinion about onion stuffed olives? These seemed to be very popular a number of years ago.

                          1. re: RGC1982

                            I've never tried the onion stuffed olives, but the ones from Miss Scarlett that are stuffed with Thai peppers are fabulous in a martini made with pepper vodka.

                      2. The olive thing is a personal pet peeve. Cocktails olives aren't stuffed with pimentoes: they're plain. Of course, most pimento-stuffed olives aren't stuffed with pimentoes, either, but an extruded gelatin paste containing some pimento puree. Of course, every illustration of a Martini Cocktail ever made features a pimento-stuffed olive, as though the viewer couldn't tell it was an olive otherwise. I don't mind the hundred variants of stuffed olives available these days, but the classic cocktail olive is an unstuffed green olive.

                        A Martini Cocktail on the rocks is a legitimate option, if a rarely-requested one. To me, not serving a Martini in an elegant cocktail glass seems to miss out on an essential part of this drink's appeal. Ice in an "up" Martini is at best sloppy straining.

                        The vermouth-free Martini, and the Vodka Martini assumed for a real Martini, are two tics that reflect popular taste: there are millions of drinkers who think chilled vodka in a fancy glass is a Martini. Their idea of "classy" is to call for a super-premium vodka in which all the extra cost has gone into packaging and marketing, not the liquor itself. (I like to point these folks in this direction: www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/dining/26w... ).

                        A busy bartender is probably saving himself some steps by making a couple of irksome assumptions that appear to reflect ignorance of cocktail history and basics. Some actually know better, but the number of people they are likely to annoy is small. What percentage of drinkers knows the proportions of a Nick and Nora Charles Martini, or why it's called that? A tiny one, I'm guessing. I tend to be very specific about proportions, since ideas of wetness and dryness seem to be very personal.

                        Yeah, I wish more bartenders knew their stuff, or took it as one of their goals to enlighten the benighted. But depending on the level of the place, in their shoes, I'd probably do the same. Most people just want their icy vodka fast, hold the history lesson, Professor. A shame, another nail in the coffin of civility, but what can you do? My choice is to patronize the handful of places that know what they hell they're doing, and elsewhere, not challenge the limited skills of the staff. "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig."

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Forget the proportions, do they know that they have to shake it to waltz time?

                          I see the job of a bartender to be first, give the customer the drink they want and second to educated or enlighten if asked. If someone is bright enough to ask a bartender for a martini and tell them "however you think is best" or something similar, then I'd hope the bartender would turn out a classic cocktail: gin, enough vermouth, up, olive. Could be very eye opening.

                        2. To get back to your original question, no, we don't make many of those these days. Dirty vodka martini's are outselling their gin cousins at my bar by well over 20 to one.

                          As far as the olive thing goes, in 15 years behind over a dozen bars in 3 states, and I've never worked anywhere that didn't have pimento stuffed olives.

                          And you should play nice with us, if you want us to play nice with you. If you know what you want, and how you want it made, tell us in no uncertain terms. If it's still wrong, find another bar, and another bartender. Find mine and I promise proper martini's and a lively debate on the merits of proper cocktail garnishes.

                          Try this one, it's my current favorite,

                          209 gin and Lillet, 4 to 1, stirred, up, with a twist.