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Feb 17, 2014 06:52 PM

Martinis without Vermouth - The New Normal (At Least in LA)

It seems whack that you can't order a Martini and get a Martini at most nice restaurants in the second largest city in the country. Found this out at Mastro's in Beverly Hills, which is a very nice and celeb-filled steak house, by accident when I asked how much vermouth is normally included in a Martini. They said "none." Then started asking around at many nice LA restaurants over the past two years. Have yet to find a restaurant that tells me they include vermouth as the norm. Not even a drop. They tell me that people don't want vermouth in their Martinis. I point out that without vermouth they are not serving Martinis. Next place I'm going to check is Musso and Frank Grill, but I'm almost afraid of the answer. Anyone else have this experience in their cities?

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    1. Last time I was at Mastro's with someone who ordered a Martini, the waiter responded, "what kind of vodka would you like in it?"

      3 Replies
        1. re: sku


          (i'm not disagreeing with you, simply opining on the whole thing there. No.)

              1. re: ultramagnetic

                Not even remotely new. I'm wondering if the OP just turned 21.

                1. re: Alcachofa

                  I'm not surprised to come across the vermouthless Martini AT ALL. Just surprised that it's so prevalent in a town that's in the throes of the "authentic" mixology trend. I'm surprised that it's happening in places that proudly serve real sazeracs and daiquiris and other drinks that require at least a modicum of knowledge of cocktail recipes to create.

                  1. re: signofthefourwinds

                    I'm surprised it is happening at the types of places you've just described, too, though up top you listed a couple of touristy places where I would expect no-vermouth martinis.

                    Have you been to the Varnish, Seven Grand, and/or Edison?

                    1. re: signofthefourwinds

                      Mastro's and the like do not serve real sazeracs or daiquiris. What very established places like Mastro's will do is revamp their tired bar program so as to not get left completely behind the times. They'll offer a few revived classics like you mention, but they won't be made correctly at all.

                      I'm curious which restaurants you surveyed. I'm not trying to be obnoxious, I'm just really curious. Partly so that I can avoid them!

                      Most of the places that I've been really enjoying lately have superb bar programs. What i find is, for the most part, newer restaurants that opened during or since people started taking their cocktails a bit more seriously have excellent bar programs. Those are the places you can get a great martini, too.

                      Just a few restaurants that are putting out excellent drinks along with their excellent food:

                      Red Medicine
                      Tasting Kitchen
                      Son of a Gun

                      1. re: cacio e pepe

                        Although at a recent visit to Rustic Canyon, I watched he bartender make my martini and was surprised to see him free-pour the vermouth into the mixing glass full of ice (when he had been measuring everything else). I understood why when the next step was that he poured the vermouth out then measured the gin and proceeded to complete the drink. Sigh…I had higher hopes. Wish I had said something.

                        On another note, not that people go here for cocktails, but Melisse has some serious bar tending going on, as evidenced by a very nice piece of clear ice in a cocktail I had there (not many places do that). Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean the cocktail is any good, but it is a clear sign (get it) that some attention to detail is being payed to the cocktails. And I love the look.

                        1. re: cobpdx

                          That's disappointing re: Rustic Canyon, but thanks for the heads-up about Melisse. I haven't been because $$$$, but maybe that needs to be my next splurge.

                          One issue with serving a proper martini in any bar is that it's such a familiar drink for people. You know, put a vieux carre on the menu and you can make it properly because nearly no one has an established point of view. With martinis, you're fighting very established tastes. You're picking a fight when you insist on gin and you're picking another when you insist on vermouth.

                          Still, plenty of places in LA are doing it right!

                        2. re: cacio e pepe

                          While going over in my head the places I've been since making my accidental discovery that evening at Mastro's last May, I realize pretty much only drink martinis at a restaurant when I'm having a steak. That being said, here are the places at which I've inquired and been told the default recipe is no vermouth. There might be a couple more and I'll modify the list as and if they come to me.

                          Spark, Studio City. A wood fire grill that has a modest but decent cocktail list.
                          Morton's, Burbank.
                          Fleming's Steakhouse, Beverly Hills
                          Cut, steakhouse, Beverly Hills
                          Black Angus, Burbank. Not a surprise, I know.
                          Damon's, tiki themed steak house, Glendale. Again, not really surprising since one of their two trademark drinks is a completely bastardized Mai Tai.

                          1. re: signofthefourwinds

                            See, absolutely none of those places are the type of place which could be described as "places that proudly serve real sazeracs and daiquiris and other drinks that require at least a modicum of knowledge of cocktail recipes to create." So, I still don't understand why you're going there and expecting a real martini.

                            1. re: Alcachofa

                              Gotta agree.

                              On a side note, I used to love going to the Pacific Dining Car bar and ordering manhattans. It was always dead as a tomb in there and a friend and I enjoyed seeing what they would give me when I said, "I'll have a manhattan." Nothing more.

                              Examples include: sometimes from the same bartender during the same sitting:

                              1. 50/50 with no bitters. On the rocks.
                              2. Bourbon, bitters on the rocks.
                              3. Bourbon, vermouth, no bitters, served up.
                              4. All bourbon. Two separate pours. On the rocks. Talk about ADD.

                              One time I got a bit persnickety and ordered "a manhattan with extra bitters, up." A new bartender with a strong Irish brogue told me in a professorial tone that manhattans never have bitters in them. I just said, "This one will."

                                1. re: cacio e pepe

                                  Better than the one I got that had no whiskey of any kind (vodka maybe), no sweet vermouth (cranberry juice maybe), sour mix, and a neon cherry advertised on the menu as a Luxardo.

                                    1. re: cacio e pepe

                                      Cranberry. He probably bled. Tears go in the vermouth-less Martinis. :)

                                  1. re: cacio e pepe

                                    Wow, the worst Manhattan I ever had was made with, well, blended whiskey, shaken, stale sweet vermouth, no bitters, on the rocks, stale neon cherries. I watched, stared, left.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      What, no "cherry juice" tipped in from the maraschino cherry sludge?

                                  2. re: Alcachofa

                                    (in reply to Alcachofa)Years ago, you could expect a real martini in lots of places, and some of the best were in steakhouses. It's a simple standard. There are so many reasons this has gone downhill (vodka, spoiled vermouth, poor training, bravado...) but there is no reason any bar should not be able to still do this, it's hardly necessary to be expensive or cocktail-crafty, it's two standard ingredients, made cold.

                                    1. re: Up With Olives

                                      That would be three ingredients. Orange bitters are essential.

                                      1. re: Up With Olives

                                        Three ingredients if you use orange bitters ;)

                                        But yeah, I agree. One of the many reasons they are one of the cocktails I most commonly make around the house is that it's just so simple. No need to take down lots of bottles, no need to juice fresh fruits (and clean up the juicer and strainer) and no shaking means no need to wash the shaker. Such a simple cocktail, and yet...well...this thread.

                                        1. re: Up With Olives

                                          I'm aware that these are not at all hard drinks to make properly. I'm also aware of the history, and that you could go almost anywhere in the '50s - early '60s and get these drinks without a problem. Heck, even Marilyn Monroe pronounced "maraschino" correctly in "Some Like it Hot".

                                          That was then, this is now. I would not expect an even semi-knowledgeable bartender at Fleming's or Morton's, except by luck. That's all I'm sayin'.

                                          1. re: Alcachofa

                                            Funny, I feel like I had better luck (in regular restaurants and bars) in the '90s than today. Of course, I always looked for the most mature bartender....

                                      2. re: signofthefourwinds

                                        Can't speak for any of the others, but I always have specified my gin:vermouth ratio at Damon's and gotten it.

                                        Thing is, when a drink has as many variations as the martini does, it's a mistake to simply ask for a martini and hope they're reading your mind. And if you do specify and they say "We don't do that," then I'd seriously consider asking for a beer. Or lemonade. Or going somewhere else. He's supposed to be making my drink, not his.

                              1. I see this a lot in NYC too, everywhere from Irish bars to top notch places. You must ask, and request, and even then they often will not comply. Truly demented.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Up With Olives

                                  Twenty years ago I got to know a bartender at a very good, mid-level type NYC restaurant and she proudly explained how she made her dry martini--yes, you guessed it. I never ordered one from her...

                                2. I've never seen this, ever, in NYC, or the 'burbs, or up in New England. Then again, I only order martini's in fine cocktail bars and restaurants. I wouldn't think of ordering one anywhere else.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: JMF

                                    I adored my martini at Bar Pleiades, had ordered Junipero, "not too dry." Next time in, I began same order to waitress, and then felt silly, said "oh, you always make them great here" and she reminded me I should be making my specific order b/c otherwise they are made without vermouth. I was shocked because drinks there are always excellent.