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BY JOHN BOBEY
photography by william brinson | February 7, 2012 | Food & Drink
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.”
Mini serveware 12-piece set, Macy’s ($19.99).
|Mad Men’s ad men Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) share a three-martini lunch in early-1960s Manhattan|
|Many believe this 1887 “bartending bible” contains history’s first martini recipe|
As Patrick Slattery recalled, the three-martini-lunch glamour days were no myth, and they’re here again thanks to another culturally significant production: AMC’s muchlauded critical smash Mad Men. Says Bryan Batt, who played Sterling Cooper art director Salvatore Romano, “They didn’t hide it. They drank during the day and then went back to the office and were actually productive—or in the case of Don Draper, reproductive. But I think that Sal would have been more classic,” Batt continues, “with a gin martini. And I think he would have been an olive man.”
When sniffing out Miami’s martini legacy in particular, look to the sun-drenched days of the 1950s and ’60s when, like today, Miami was the playground of the stars and socialites from New York and LA. Heidi Klum summed it up at the grand reopening of the legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach in 2008: “Back in the day, you couldn’t swing a martini glass without hitting Elvis, the Rat Pack, or anybody who was anybody.” Glamour and refinement helped make Miami the ultimate resort paradise, and that meant the cocktail flourished here. After all, living it up in paradise is thirsty work. “The martini has been enjoyed and endorsed by a lot of celebrities. It became the embodiment of a generation,” says Francesco Lafranconi, corporate director of mixology and spirits education at Southern Wine and Spirits of America, and developer of cocktail programs for restaurateur Daniel Boulud, the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, and Bobo Bergstrom’s Edge Steak and Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami. “It became part of a lifestyle,” Lafranconi continues, “and this is why the martini is synonymous with sophistication, good living, and luxury. It represents a state of being.”
The cocktail is now as much in demand as it ever was. “The martini is alive and well down here,” assures Richie Petronzi, head bartender for Skybar and the Shore Club South Beach. “These days, everybody is drinking them, from the older crowd to the younger customers who are really getting into vintage drinking and the classic cocktails. They respect the tradition.”
And what a tradition it is. After a century, the martini is not merely holding steady, but thriving across Miami’s swankiest establishments and grittiest bars, from the Setai to the Deuce. Sometimes it pays to stick to the basics and honor the past. “Whenever I’m with friends and we’re having martinis, we end up reminiscing about where and when we began drinking them,” says Slattery. “I can still remember the very first time I had one, I was probably 18 or 19. There was only one other person in the bar. I said to the bartender, ‘Hey, what is that he’s drinking?’ pointing to a fellow customer. Of course it was a martini. He made me one, and it probably took me an hour and a half to finish it. That first martini took my breath away. But then I thought, I like it.”
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)