The Martini Leaves Its Mark on Miami
BY JOHN BOBEY
photography by william brinson
Crescendo martini glass, Luigi Bormioli (set of four, $46). bloomingdales.com
|Sean Connery as James Bond pouring a martini in Dr. No, 1962|
|The Fontainebleau hotel was the scene of much martini-fueled debauchery in the 1950s and ’60s|
Miami cocktail culture is being both shaken and stirred by the resurgent popularity of the martini. As with all the best things in life, it comes down to timing, and no one knows this better than Patrick Slattery, a Miami renaissance man who made his mark in the luxury real estate market. Before relocating in 1978, Slattery edited film for commercials in New York and won multiple CLIO Awards for doing so. “It was a martini lunch every day,” he remembers. “Two would do, because of work. Gin martinis were the thing, either with two olives or a twist, and they were always dry, dry, dry.” And while Slattery imbibed along Manhattan’s East Side back in his advertising days, he now prefers to drink and pour behind his own bar. “New York was easy—you just went out and got a cab,” Slattery recalls. “When my friends and I go out in Miami, we limit the martinis. I entertain a lot, so I like to make my own, and if I’m going to have a martini, it’s going to be a gin martini. As for going out, South Beach is still the hottest spot.”
Paul Brown agrees. As the operating partner of Blue Martini (a lounge concept with outposts in Brickell, Kendall, and Fort Lauderdale), he knows that no night on the town would be complete without a visit to what many consider to be the “mecca of the Miami martini.” “The martini is our backbone,” he asserts. “It’s our brand, it’s what we’re about. About a third of our annual sales come from martinis. The drink is timeless—it’s masculine but also somehow feminine—there’s nothing else like it.”
Urbanity has always been a key component of the martini's charm. Over the last few years, that civility and sophistication have led it from the cool of the cocktail bar to our finest restaurants, as cocktail programs have become an exciting trend, allowing for the excellence of a given kitchen to be reflected in the bar menu, too. When it comes to an expertly handcrafted martini, some of the country's very best pours may be where you never thought to look.
Gaston Martinez, a William Grant & Sons ambassador and the 2007 winner of the Cocktail World Cup (the Olympics of bartending), suggests that when seeking an expertly made martini, “I would put my bet on a good restaurant. If the food is great, chances are that the bar is good, as well. The martini is supposed to be a cocktail, and to me a cocktail is a mixture of two or three different spirits or flavors to create a new flavor.” While simplicity is key, the best spirits and freshest garnishes excite martini lovers and keep them coming back.
Like all legends, the martini’s birth is both shrouded in myth and rooted in fact, with two creation stories that have become the foundations of its folklore. The first suggests the drink was created at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, where people would stop on their way to catch the train to picturesque Martinez, 35 miles east of the city. Either over time or due to slurred speech, “Martinez” supposedly gave way to “martini.” Add to this the fact that The Bon Vivant’s Companion or How to Mix Drinks—the 1887 bartending bible by Jerry Thomas, who is often called the “father of American mixology”—includes a recipe for just such a thirst quencher. “The Martinez is two parts sweet vermouth, one part gin, a spoonful of maraschino liquor, and bitters stirred up,” says Gaston Martinez (alas, no relation).
The East Coast’s take on the first martini has a decidedly more upscale flair, with the drink being stirred into existence at the bar at John Jacob Astor IV’s Knickerbocker Hotel one century ago. In a 2003 Morning News article on the hotel, New York Times editor Clay Risen wrote, “That bar is where, in 1912, an immigrant bartender named Martini di Arma di Taggia allegedly mixed gin and dry vermouth, perfecting the martini. One of his first tasters was John D. Rockefeller, who liked it so much that he recommended it to all his Wall Street buddies, and the drink quickly became a national favorite.”
That unique brand of intrigue has clung to the martini throughout its evolution, albeit with considerable help from a certain special agent whose cultural significance cannot be argued. It was James Bond who finally determined that the definition of a martini should become a bit more malleable. Along with his preferred method of preparation (“shaken, not stirred,” as first uttered in the 1964 film Goldfinger), Bond preferred his made with vodka. He wasn’t alone for long: The early 1960s saw the first wave of vodka brands being imported from Russia, with love, and ever since, the vodka martini has been every bit as legit as its gin antecedent. “The vodka martini surged because supposedly it doesn’t have any odor,” Martinez says. “So you could go out to lunch, drink two or three, and nobody would be able to smell it on your breath.”
Drink stylist: ed gabriels for halley resources
photographs Courtesy of Everett Collection (connery); A beBooks/Cabin Fever Books (booK); AP Photo/Phil Sandlin (fontaine bleau)