Prices are tumbling in Michelin-starred restaurants. Now's the time to grab a bargain lunch—even if it's just a turnip cooked in ciderby Alex Renton / March 1, 2009 / Leave a comment
Another dirty Martini please
The film of Richard Yates’s novel of 1950s commuter-belt ennui, Revolutionary Road, got me thinking about dry Martinis. Like so many American middle-class dramas of the period, the story is powered by gin and vermouth just as Hogarth’s London ran on gin straight up. Under Sam Mendes’s direction, the Wheelers, a young couple going sour in suburbia, and their binge-drinking friends and colleagues drank dry Martinis in eye-opening quantities, before lunch, before supper and before adultery. You have to wonder if the emptiness at the heart of the American dream would have seemed quite so awful if they’d drunk Scotch instead.
A vodka drinker myself—Stolichnaya ideally—I never much liked true dry Martinis. And the stuffed olive, rolling there in its pseudo-sophistication, is part of what’s wrong with them. What was it—a decoration or a snack? Olives don’t even feature in the classic recipe—which would be the gin/dry vermouth mix at five or six to one, super-chilled (pouring the vermouth over ice works well) with a twist of lemon peel in a very cold glass.
But on the night I saw the film the barman in Edinburgh’s cocktail dive Bramble persuaded me into a dirty Martini. This was Welsh gin, Noilly Prat and a little of the scraps and brine from the bottom of the olive jar. I saw the light: it’s a nasty drink and that’s the beginning of the fun. Reader, I ordered another.
I wrote about Martinis in the Times recently and received a scary amount of email. I should have taken more care before intruding on the beliefs of an alcohol cult. But among the abuse were some delightfully obsessive Martini chroniclers. The Martini was not invented during Prohibition, I was told, by bootlegger bar-owners sweetening rotgut gin with the vermouth of that name: its genesis was 40 years earlier and there are 19th-century recipe books to prove it. A plaque in the town of Martinez, California claims to mark where the cocktail was first mixed.
I also got capped on the famous story of Luis Buñuel’s recipe for the driest Martini. Connoisseurs, wrote Buñuel in his autobiography, simply allow a ray of sunshine to pass through the bottle of vermouth into the gin. My informant tells me that Salvador Dali replied (I can find no verification for this, not even on Google) “I will tell you my recipe. When everything is…