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Martini ordering question

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  • Chao May 15, 2007 11:51 AM
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During a recent sojourn in NYC, I ordered a martini at a bar. I asked for a Sapphire martini, straight up, very dry, with olives. The friendly, if harried (it was a busy night) bartender explained that if I ordered a martini straight up, asking for it to be dry was redundant.
Is this true? I thought ordering it "straight up" was meant to differentiate from martini served "on the rocks."
Can anyone clarify?
(Apologies if this repeats any recent posts... I did search for the answer first; it's possible I did not search assiduously enough).

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  1. The dryness is in relation to the amount of vermouth used, not whether or not it's served straight up or on the rocks, which you are right about. Nothing like getting unsolicited advice from the misinformed.

    1. I had a sort of similar experience recently. I ordered a Martini, and was asked "dry" or "dirty"? I asked if "dirty" meant with vermouth, and was told yes. I bit my tongue and ordered it "dirty". Now, I'm no expert, but as a kid when I was mixing up Martinis for my Dad, I was told that a "dirty" Martini had a teaspoon or so of olive juice in it.
      Somebody correct me if I am wrong.

      1 Reply
      1. re: TroyTempest

        You're right.

      2. Sounds like a clueless bartender.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JMF

          Gentlemen, maybe we need to start a Global Martiniing Campaign.

        2. That's just bartending idiocy, plain and simple.

          "Straight up" means shaken or stirred with ice and strained, usually into a chilled cocktail glass, as opposed to "on the rocks", served over ice in a rocks glass (tumbler).

          "Very dry" in a Martini means different things to different people, but it generally indicates a very small amount of vermouth. A typical very dry gin/vermouth or vodka/vermouth ratio might be anywhere from 10:1 to 20:1 to a dash to a rinse of the glass to an atomizer spray to a wave of the bottle. That's part of a century-long trend toward less vermouth in Martinis: the original ratio was 2:1.

          My own opinion is that ultra-dry vodka martinis are neither proper cocktails nor real martinis, but chilled booze in a fancy glass. I think it's got to have at least two dimensions to be considered a well-constructed cocktail. In a Martini, that means enough vermouth to actually taste it. I personally mix about 4:1 gin:vermouth at home (I'm not a Vodkatini fan), and add a few drops of orange bitters.

          It's critical to use a tasty vermouth: I loathe Martini & Rossi Extra Dry, the best-selling dry vermouth in the States. I've also found that vermouth, especially dry, doesn't keep very long at room termperature; spoilage is a big problem for a lot of bottles of vermouth on home bars. Smell before you pour; keep your next bottle in the fridge.

          "Dirty" means with a dash of olive brine, a filthy idea if the bartender is pouring it from a garnish tray that a million fingers have walked through. Order dirty only if they keep a separate squeeze bottle of olive brine.

          27 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            What do you consider "tasty" vermouths?

            1. re: vinosnob

              Dry: Vya Extra Dry, Noilly Prat Dry, Lillet Blanc, Boissiere Dry.
              Sweet: Carpano Antica Formula, Vya Sweet, Carpano Punt e Mes, Lillet Rouge, Cinzano Rosso.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              "a filthy idea if the bartender is pouring it from a garnish tray that a million fingers have walked through. Order dirty only if they keep a separate squeeze bottle of olive brine."

              oh my gosh - that never occurred to me
              Thank you for opening my eyes

              1. re: Cookiefiend

                When I was a server we speared our olives and cherrieswith cocktail swords - NEVER stuck our fingers in there. Yuck.

              2. re: MC Slim JB

                actually "straight up" is a commonly misused bar term.

                correctly, it is used to order a shot (or double) of a single liquor, no frills, cubes, mixing procedures, etc: a martini would not qualify.

                correct use: "bartender, i'd like a shot of bookers, straight up." nuff said. the patron would receive a shot of booker's in an appropriate glass, money would exchange hands or a tab started.

                incorrect use: "bartender, i'd like a shot of tequila, straight up, with lime and salt"-- this is not straight up, it's a shot with "training wheels," but the bartender will know what you mean.

                grossly incorrect use: "bartender, i'd like a white russian, straight up, on the rocks."--the bartender now knows the patron is a moron.

                incorrect use: "bartender, give me a dirty martini, straight up"-- the bartender should know what you mean, but the correct way to order a martini in traditional glassware, without ice, is "UP"-- there is nothing "straight" about this mixed drink. that's why a good bartender will have the following exchange with a customer:
                patron "i'd like a martini, please."
                bt "up or on the rocks?"
                patron "up, please"
                bt (chilling stemmed martini glass) "gin or vodka, sir?"
                patron "gin--sapphire, if you have it."
                bt "ah, classic. Dry?"
                patron "very"
                bt (pours drop of vermouth in shaker, swirls, dumps out before adding ice and gin) "nice day out, how about them yankees"

                nevertheless, a huge number of people insist on ordering their martinis "straight up"-- i think they must think it makes them sound cool. the bartender should know what is intended. the op's bartender was a moron 1 for not knowing common drink terms, 2 for trying to make a tipping patron feel stupid.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  It doesn't just make them sound cool... they're correct in saying "straight up". "Straight up" is exactly the same thing as "up"; as a waiter, I would typically ask my guests if they would like a martini straight up or on the rocks, then ask the bartender to make a martini up.

                  Dale DeGroff, bartender for many years at the Rainbow Room in New York and one of the founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail, calls martinis and other such drinks served without ice "straight up" (The Craft of the Cocktail, page 70).

                  What you think of as straight up is actually "neat". Asking for a shot of liquor straight up is redundant, as it is very difficult to fit ice cubes into a shot glass.

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    So there is such a thing as a martini on the rocks? Or is the martini, by definition, served without ice? (This is a sincere inquiry - not being sarcastic, by the way.) I guess I just always thought of a martini as being "rockless".

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      It's a rare sight, indeed, but a rocks martini does exist. Some folks like their ice.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        martinis and manhattens are variations of the same type of drink, which were invented at about the same time. martinis are more often served without ice, manhattens with ice in a rocks glass. there are folks who like their gin martini on ice, and folks who like their manhatten up-- both perfectly acceptable.

                      2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                        i tried to edit my response, evidently it didn't work. fer one i do think many terms are used differently in different areas of the country, i do think that plain gin/vodka martinis can be considered straight if they have no ice-- to me it's iffy because it is still a mixed drink, and flavored martinis are right out-- you order these drinks by their name from the pink drink menu and take what you get.

                        in my 10 years bartending i would never ever serve a shot of bookers, 12 year scotch, louis, etc or any nice liquor in a shot glass! these liquors should be poured properly into at the very least a rocks glass so that the bouquet can be savored--not talking about shots of jagermeister here!

                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          Thanks JK, I was about to post a response, you saved me the typing.
                          YOu are on the money/

                        2. re: soupkitten

                          I agree with JKG, you have your definition wrong. You have neat and straight up confused.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Neat is the way I refer to drinks that is basically 2 fingers of booze in a glass. No ice, no garnish.

                            Bakers - Neat
                            Makers Mark - Neat

                            Glass, 2 oz of booze. period.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              "correct use: "bartender, i'd like a shot of bookers, straight up.""

                              Er, no. Straight up implies shaking with ice. "Neat" is the term for no mingling with other ingredients.

                              EDIT: Grence already had communicate this. Oops.

                              1. re: Alcachofa

                                hey as i've aready said, i realized i dropped the ball on my post above about 10 mins after i posted it, tried to change it but the change didn't come thru.

                                "straight" as in "i like a man who drinks his whiskey straight" would perhaps be unhelpful of me to mention-- at one time it meant bonded whiskey, and it still does, but it is an accepted term for ordering an unadorned shot in my neck of the woods. "neat" is a bar term i prefer to use only while ordering at the bar, talking directly to a competant bartender and ordering a higher shelf liquor (it's pretty pompous to order a "shot of jack daniels, neat" imo; you order a "straight shot of jack"). the majority of servers don't know the term "neat" ime. and i've gotten screwed up drinks-- waste of good liquor. at any rate i think i've been putting in enough long days, i've stopped paying attention to some of my posts ;)

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  Perhaps you need a Martini then!

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    *sigh* but i don't drink gin. . . or jack. . . and certainly can't afford the stuff i used to order when i supported us on tips. . . that's okay, though, i didn't have 8 year plus regulars because i couldn't mix drinks, so it's a good bet i haven't hung up my shaker for keeps.

                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                    lol, see and I wouldn't order a shot of jack...its all about preferences and at some point, whatever you have to say to get the drink you want is what you have to say.

                                2. re: soupkitten

                                  thank you soupkitten for teaching me how not to sound like an absolute idiot when ordering!

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    my excahnges have an extra line from the bartender
                                    me: i'd like a martini please
                                    bt: what kind (flavor). we have watermellon, chocolate, apple, etc.
                                    me (frustrated) hendricks if you have it, tanq 10 if not.

                                    then the conversation continues as you have described it.

                                    it leads me to a frustration over language and that is the fact that a "cocktail" is no longer part of the barroom lexicon and has been replaced by "martini" for any mixed drink that can be served in a cocktailglass.

                                    my father's line has always been: "i don't care what james bond says, if it isn't made with gin it isn't a martini."

                                    i agree with him ( a rarity ). other cocktails are fine, but flavoerd vodka and liquor aren't martinis to my mind.

                                    how far off base am i here? i'm feeling pretty lonely on this one.

                                    1. re: japhyryder

                                      no you are not alone & the flavored martini craze drives me nuts! (i do like a cosmo, but i don't think of it as a martini, just served in cocktail glass)

                                      i think bar & liquor image/marketing has pumped up the martini "image" and super-premum preferences in liquor, while the drinking public can't necessarily down 3 martinis before dinner without absolutely wrecking themselves, so we've got all of these pink and green cocktails running around in a stemmed glass (pain in the butt to clean stack & store, btw), and the phenomenon of people ordering a drink colored to match their dress, or their contact lenses. . .

                                      in reality you've got a lot of young drinkers drinking strong drinks w/no ice trying to look sophisticated but getting pretty drunk because they think they'll look like a rube ordering a mixed drink in a rocks glass-- and customers who think that martinis all must be green and apple flavored. i remember serving a 21 year-old his first "real" martini, which he insisted on ordering, and he was just shocked that it tasted just "like cold gin and nothing else" and i told him that's exactly what the drink was.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        he he! I remember years ago that Morton's ran a competition of sorts, where if you tried each of their 50 (or 100?) cocktail connoctions within a certain number of days/weeks, you got a gift certificate to Morton's. I used to pop down to Morton's for lunch sometimes to have a hamburger at the bar - no libations - and would see this one guy wend his way through them. Some looked truly vile. But he did it.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          I was at my new favorite bar the other night, chatting with the bartender. I saw him make round after round of this murky concoction, always in martini glasses. Finally I had to ask, and it turned out it was a peanut butter flavored drink! Eeeew. He gave me a shot glass of it so I could try. Tasted like dessert. Certainly not anything I'd drink an entire glass of - and it was the most ordered drink of the night (mostly girls).

                                          1. re: mojoeater

                                            Yes - that was the kind of drink I'm talking about - wish I could remember the details but some sounded down right vile.

                                      2. re: japhyryder

                                        I guess it depends on how far back you want to go. In the Golden Age of Cocktails (late 19th century), the term "cocktail" implied the presence of bitters. So you might argue that not only is a Vodkatini not a Martini, but a Martini without a detectable amount of vermouth isn't a Martini, and without a dash of orange bitters isn't a cocktail. I like bitters, use them a lot, but I don't go that far with my definitions.

                                        I certainly find it ridiculous when candy-flavored junk strained into a cocktail glass gets called a Martini. I don't even like it when cocktail glasses get called martini glasses. Damned rookies. Stop fooling yourself, and go back to Goldschläger shots. (And get off my lawn!)

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          Hopefully, now that we are wending our way into the New Golden Age of Cocktails, the younger folks and newbies will pick up on the language. I am always educating people, customers and staff, about proper terminology and ingredients. Sometimes folks even listen to what I have to say.

                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I agree with MC - I like to be able to taste the vermouth too. And I remember that my dad always kept his vermouth in the fridge also.

                                    3. Your bartender was an idiot. There are a certain number of questions that a bartender should ask when someone comes up and just says "I'd like a martini, please".

                                      1) Gin or vodka (and by the same line, "Do you have a favorite spirit we can pour?" to both personalize the drink and get a bigger tip): Base spirit.

                                      2) Straight up or on the rocks: Whether there is ice in the drink or not. A proper on the rocks martini will be strained over fresh ice.

                                      3) Regular or dry: How much vermouth goes in. Regular will usually be 3 or 5 to 1, dry around 11 to 1 (usually accomplished by rinsing the ice in vermouth and dumping the excess), extra dry (especially if the person pauses before saying "extra") is done by grasping the bottle firmly and quietly uttering "Vermouth". Winston Churchill preferred having an open bottle of vermouth in front of a fan across the room. For style points, pour a small shot of vermouth, down the shot, and breathe heavily into the mixing glass.

                                      4) Olive or twist "Oliver Twist?": The garnish. A cocktail onion in place of the olive or twist turns it into a Gibson.

                                      If the person wants a dirty martini, it's good to ask how dirty. When someone orders one at work, I prefer to phrase it "R, X, or XXX rated?" for a little dirty, normal dirty, or extra dirty. But please, save dirty martinis for enjoying at home; there's dozens of fingers in and out of the olive juice all night.

                                      Martinis are supposed to be stirred, but nine times out of ten they will get shaken unless you specify stirred. If you tell them stirred, tell them stir it well or you'll get a warm cocktail.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                        "But please, save dirty martinis for enjoying at home; there's dozens of fingers in and out of the olive juice all night."

                                        given how popular the martini trend is these days, you would think that a decent bar would keep some olive juice on hand from an unfingered source (ie, use spoons to get olives out of jars and reserve some liquid in a separate container than what the service area uses for olives.)

                                        and talk about idiotic bartenders....back in the day when i was first dating my soon to be mr hitachino, mr hitachino got his first bartending job (i had already been in the restaurant/cocktail business for some years by that time). his first evening he was stationed at an outdoor bar, and i came to sit at the bar and keep him company and give him any help with drinks that he might need. lucky, that. his first drink order was a virgin mary and he came up to me and asked what was in a virgin mary.

                                        needless to say, his bartending days were numbered.

                                        1. re: hitachino

                                          I have also seen a "dirty" martinini made by placing an olive or two with some brine into the shaker and then retrieved with a spoon after the drink is poured. Seemed to make sense to me...

                                        2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                          Also, people don't realize that the olives are almost always stored at room temp. Adding these to a cocktail will inevitably raise the temp of your chilled beverage. If you are a regular and drink 'tinis w/olives, ask the 'tender to keep some in the fridge for ya.

                                          1. re: momof3

                                            hm. once opened, olives were in the fridge everywhere i worked-- always on the "shelf" over the reach in-cooler's motor, next to the white wines and the chilled liquers/schnapps. in bars with old-fashioned door front coolers, they were in their own area in the cooler, along with other cold non-alcoholic drink paraphenalia (cream, whipped cream, bloody mary mix, etc). when the garnish trays are set up for waitstaff or nightclub service, there should be ice under there, and the lid should be closed when not in use. the garnishes should be kept cold at all times.

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              I totally agree soupkitten, should being the operative word. I need to work in classier joints. Warm olives, onions, any garnish is just plain yucky.

                                              1. re: momof3

                                                oh, trust me i've worked in some real dives too! i have no problem with slingin' 2-fer-1s or $2 pitchers-of-piss, but warm olives, not on my watch! :)

                                        3. The bartender was wrong.

                                          But I would also add that "straight up" is probably redundant. I would guess about .o2% of the population orders it on the rocks.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: JudiAU

                                            I would put it a bit more than that, but not by much. The vast majority of the time, Martinis are ordered straight up and Manhattans are served on the rocks, but I promise that the one time you *don't* ask is going to be the one time they wanted it the other way.

                                            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                              i agree for places that serve the 21-30 year-old patrons, but i think it depends on the clientele of the establishment--martinis or gimlets on the rocks are the DOC of many savvy older drinkers (55-60 yrs and up). the rob roy drinkers are pretty much extinct, though, i think.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                yup, My Dad (70 yrs) almost always orders his martinis on the rocks, and has been for years, unless he is mixing up a pitcher of them at home.

                                                1. re: TroyTempest

                                                  Funny, I'm the opposite. If I'm at a bar I get it straight up, but at home making one for myself, I'll just fix one in a small glass over ice. It spares me the whole martini glass thing also.

                                                  1. re: wontonton

                                                    yes, i think the whole "ordering a martini at the bar" thing is about the image of the drink, and the image the drinker wants to have of themselves drinking a "the cocktail" at the bar. plus you get to see some (hopefully) good craftsmanship on the part of the bt & i always appreciate that. . .

                                                    but once you get to the drink's actual content, yeah, a lot of people may choose to skip the elegant but impractical, tippy, spilly, shattery glass (more so after the 2nd one :-) . . .) . that's why i think more people drink rocks martinis at home, and why older drinkers who are pragmatic and comfortable with themselves are martini-rocks folks. martini-rocks people are as a general rule really great customers btw.