IT’S THE ULTIMATE IN SOPHISTICATION
One of the more civilized things a person can do is to enjoy a cocktail (or two) before dinner. Five o’clock heralds the beginning of our cocktail hour, and we each prefer a martini. We seldom miss our appointment, and if we do miss it due to other obligations, yours truly can get a little pissy.
A designated cocktail hour gives us permission to start drinking as if we actually need an excuse. It’s something to look forward to, so in the early afternoon I start watching the clock and begin the countdown.
Within the context of entertaining, cocktails before dinner are a great starter. Not only are they an aperitif, but they have a way of getting things rolling. They lubricate the conversation, lower personal inhibitions, and can serve as a socioeconomic equalizer.
Although there are many cocktails to choose from, I personally think the best choice is the martini. It’s relatively simple to make (only two basic ingredients), and it’s light, refreshing, and delicious on the palate. It’s served in one of those wonderfully shaped glasses, which are absolutely the height of sophistication.
There are basically two types made with either gin or vodka. Gin has a bit more taste, although this can actually serve as a deterrent. To some, it tastes a bit like tree sap while the taste of vodka is more subtle.
I approached gin the same way I approached jazz. With jazz initially I didn’t care for it much, but everyone else thought it was great. So, I listened to it, read about it in reviews, and studied it. Over time I caught on, and now I love it. I don’t love all of it, but most of it.
Martinis I approached the same way, but instead of listening, I tasted. And I hated the taste of gin, but I hung in there.
I started with vodka martinis, I found them to be palatable. Next, I discovered gin and tonics. Fevertree tonics helped, and they soon became one of my favorites, and the taste of a good brand of gin helped. Then, I began drinking ‘wet’ martinis where the ratio of gin to Vermouth was about even (50:50).
Once I made the changeover to gin, the brand of the base liquor is very important as is the choice of the dry vermouth. There are lots of choices, some better than others
During this initiation/transition stage, I would have an occasional ‘dirty’ martini with olive juice added. My goal was to enjoy the purity of the gin/Vermouth concoction, so I stayed with the ‘classic’ martini – more on dirty martinis later.
The martini aficionado must now determine the wet/dry proportions of the drink. A “wet” martini has more vermouth than base liquor, while a “dry” martini has more of the base liquor. The wet variety is often called an Upside-down Martini or Reverse Martini. Julia Childs loved these, and her recipe called for ¾ oz. of gin with 3¾ oz. of vermouth. This is a bit too wet for me, but I’ve never been one to argue the decisions of Julia Childs.
Some other examples of the wet/dry spectrum are as follows:
A Delicate Martini is 2:1 vermouth to gin
The Fifty-fifty Martini is equal parts gin and vermouth
My Favorite Martini is 2:1 gin to vermouth
The Classic Martini is 3 or 4:1 mix
A Dry Martini is greater than the 4:1 mix
To mix it Extra Dry add only a few drops of vermouth to the gin
For an Essence Martini add the vermouth to the glass, swirl it around and pour it out, and then add the gin
The Secret Martini – gargle with vermouth, spit it out and then whisper the word “vermouth” over the top of the gin
A Zen Martini is a martini with no vermouth at all. And no gin either.
Shaken or stirred? Ah, this is where James Bond and I part company. I like mine stirred. I usually find splinters of ice in my cocktail when it is shaken, and some say shaking the blend can actually bruise the vermouth, so for aesthetic reasons, I carefully stir mine.
IT’S GOTHAM GLAM – PURE AND SIMPLE
This potent creation is best sipped in an elegant setting that channels to Gotham glam, to the tunes to that of a live piano player. And speaking of pianos, there is this George Clooney quote:
“I bought a piano once because I had the dream of playing ‘As Time Goes By’ as some girl’s leaning on it drinking a martini. But it hasn’t worked out. I can’t even play chopsticks. But I’ve got a nice piano at my house.” – Like George Clooney needs a piano to lure to his house.
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF. YOU DESERVE IT!
Having martini is being good to yourself. YOU KNOW, YOU NEED TO BE GOOD TO YOURSELF: But sometimes having a martini in the privacy of your own home just isn’t enough. You Just Have to Treat Yourself to A Drink in A Swanky Hotel Bar.
And if you’re in New York City and you have a thirst, there’s not a better place to enjoy a classic martini than in one of the city’s most unique bars. And I think the best of the best is Bemelmans Bar located in the Carlyle Hotel.
The Carlyle Hotel is different than any other hotel. It’s rich in history, and in the early 1960s, it was known as “the New York White House.” President John F. Kennedy maintained an apartment on the 34th floor, and by using the service entrance and tunnels would secretly sneak paramours up to his lair. One it is said was Marilyn Monroe. IF ONLY WALLS COULD TALK. But enough about Carlyle gossip.
The bar’s namesake, Ludwig Bemelmans, was the author and illustrator of the classic Madeline children’s books. His artwork is displayed on the walls, which he painted as payment for a year and a half lodging for him and his family.
So, what is best to order in such an elegant setting? Why a martini, of course. I like a traditional vodka/vermouth martini served with a sidecar. And I’m not talking about the traditional sidecar made with cognac, Cointreau, and lemon. This sidecar accompanying the martini contains the extra that won’t fit into the martini glass. It basically is a mini-decanter set in something like a trifle dish with crushed ice surrounding the decanter. When you’ve finished what was originally served, you can pour the contents of the decanter into your martini glass. It is a cool and refreshing surprise compared to the drink you just finished. I also think the ingredients sitting in the decanter have had a chance to “get happy” with the vodka (or gin) and the vermouth bringing out the best in each other.
The drink is priced at $36, but you are basically getting two drinks for the price of one, and this is Bemelmans which many think is the best watering hole in NYC. And that’s saying something.
And when you’re finished at Bemelman’s, head to the Madcap Café and order a Ruth Bader Jin-sburg martini.
IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING
I want to remind you, martinis are lethal. They are all about titration.
We almost always drink the first on too quickly, but the second one should set the tone.
Get into a sipping mood. It is important to take up residence in the world of the 2nd martini and reside there for a time, and then think about if it’s really such a good idea to order the third.
MY SECRETS TO PREPARING THE ‘CLASSIC’ MARTINI:
- I like my mine mixed with Hendrick’s gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth.
- I chill everything beforehand. As a matter of fact, there’s a part of our freezer reserved for drink equipment and glasses.
- I carefully measure and pour the ingredients into the chilled cocktail shaker, which has been filled half full of ice cubes.
- I insert the stirring spoon between the ice and the walls of the shaker and stir a total of thirty 180-degree motions.
- I strain into a classic glass that’s been prepped by having a piece of lemon rind folded over, and pith side is rubbed along the rim of the glass and the stem.
- I take the same lemon rind, and between my thumb and forefinger, I rub the two sides together, so the oils drift down and rest on top of the cocktail.
- I garnish it with a separate piece of lemon rind, and there you have it – perfection.
WHAT IF YOUR MARTINI GIVES YOU THE MUNCHIES?
This may sound gauche in this setting, but I think the perfect chip is Lay’s. And it isn’t just me who thinks so. In a book titled, “Bunny Melon: The Life of An American Style Legend,” the author said, “Studied imperfection was her style, and about it, she was a perfectionist. Mellon’s mantra: Nothing should be noticed.”
“One of her entertaining treats was to set out a bowl of Lay’s potato chips for her guests. She would order her kitchen staff to remove all the broken chips so all would be in perfect chip condition.”
I personally have found that they are a perfect accompaniment to martinis during our cocktail hour. Their salty crackly goodness goes well with the crispness of vodka and vermouth. Their slogan, “Bet You Can’t Eat Just one,” has a kinship to the classical martini, in that it’s often hard to limit yourselves to just one – chip or martini.
“Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?” – Homer Simpson
“Martinis. Is there anything they can’t do? – Bob Miller
HAVE A WONDERFUL TIME WITH NICK AND NORA
“The Thin Man” is still celebrated as the epitome of cocktail elegance. Besides witty dialogue, this series of six films with William Powell and Myrna Loy dabbles in mysteries, cocktails, and romance. Powell is Nick Charles, an elegant, urbane detective, and Nora is his stylish, sexy wife. These are movies in which the main characters start drinking when they get out of bed in the morning and don’t stop till the case is solved several days later.
In one scene, William Powell instructs his bartender on the ‘finer’ art of shaking. “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you always shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.”
The versatile, 8-ounce “Thin Man” Cocktail Glass, distinguished by a curvaceous bowl, has been re-issued using the original glass molds of glasses manufactured in the 1930s, in thermo-shock toughened crystal, dishwasher-safe and designed to withstand the rigors of the hospitality industry. Recapture classic cocktail service from a bygone era. The Gift Box Set of 2 “Thin Man” Cocktail Glasses includes a “Thin Man Drinking Companion” with quips and quotes from the classic film.
Like a sublime dry martini, Myrna Loy and William Powell had an intuitive, flawless rhythm throughout their legendary screen teaming in 14 films together. Similar to the perfect marriage of gin and a splash of vermouth, they were an exemplary blend of sophisticated charm, subtle wit and affection. During the 1930s, most films ended with the couple in love and living “happily ever after.” The story ended when it was really just beginning. Powell and Loy as “Nick and Nora Charles” in The Thin Man (1934) were the first couple who showed that marriage could actually be fun. The characters had a playful camaraderie and banter. They exuded a romantic, sexual chemistry with an underlying deep bond of friendship. There was an unprecedented sense of fun in the original Thin Man which was shot in just 16 days that continued through most of the five sequels.
Powell’s screen persona was courtly, urbane and intelligent. “I have always had a great desire to be cool and sophisticated and master of every situation,” Powell, often remembered today as the urbane, debonair leading man.
A Fun Game To Play
If Elegance were an object:
If Elegance were a moment:
If Elegance were a person:
If Elegance were a place: