It’s telling that many references to martinis entail James Bond.
Ian Fleming’s suave, yet tough, fictional spy embodies the drink’s mysterious origins. For such a stiff drink, the cocktail is slippery on hard facts.
On its martini menu, the French Quarter’s Bombay Club notes the first recorded martini recipe came out of Chicago in 1882 as an alternative to a Manhattan cocktail.
Also, most bartenders will inevitably feel obligated to reveal that Bond had it wrong. (Difficult to stomach, I know.) The martini should be stirred, not shaken lest the ice “bruise” the gin, or dilute the cocktail.
Whatever its roots or preparation, the martini is a bit like the Constitution: an American classic whose framework has withstood time but whose specifics remain open to interpretation.
At its core, a martini is gin, vermouth, and a garnish of either an olive or lemon twist. Use a pearl onion and you have a Gibson. Shaken, the martini becomes a Bradford.
Add olive brine, and it’s dirty. Add flavored bitters, and you open the floodgates to any number of recipes, both current and historical.
So where does this leave us? Perhaps with no other choice than to simply start drinking.
Early published versions of the martini called for “perfect” proportions — equal parts gin to vermouth.
Over the years, vermouth (a fortified wine) went from co-star to a supporting role (2:1), to cameo appearances to atomizer sprayed on the rim. In some cases, vermouth was yanked from the picture altogether.
There’s also the vodka factor. Martini purists shun its use as the spirit didn’t make a splash with American drinkers until the 1930s.
The term martini is further clouded by more recent hangers-on made with candy-sweet apple liqueur or chocolate. Let these slapdash-tini suffixes fool no one.
For many drinkers, martinis remain synonymous with a face-shriveling astringency that remains one fancy glass away from disinfectant.
But Blake Kaiser, lead bartender for the Bombay Club, says those who have had “bad” experiences with gin and vermouth should consider giving the martini one more try.
Or seven. That’s the number on the Bombay’s menu.
Kaiser explains that the wide variations in vermouth and gin styles lend themselves to as much range as scotch or whiskey.
In other words, there’s something for everyone.
For instance, the Bombay Club’s signature martini (Old Raj and Cocci di Torino vermouth, plus Regan’s orange bitters and a dash of maraschino) goes down more easily than one might think — balanced, smooth, slightly fruity and sweet.
Those who would otherwise prefer vodka should consider the clear, crisp and citrus notes in the Original Dry Martini (Hayman’s and Dolin Blanc vermouth).
“One or two of these will get you to where you need to go,” said Kaiser. “The martini has never faded. Why? People can interpret it their own way.”
While quality martinis can be pricey, the swank, wood-paneled Bombay Club, 830 Conti St., offers a happy hour menu (4-7 p.m., seven days a week) that softens the deal with tasty bites like creole poutine, and pork belly tacos, all at just $3 a pop.
The Bombay’s menu doesn’t include two martini accoutrements most take for granted: olives or the ubiquitous triangular stemware that flashes neon over countless bars.
Instead, Kaiser serves up its martinis in classic coupes that look as elegant in 2015 as they did in 1915.
Regardless of whether they’re rounded or angular, those long martini stems keep warm fingers from heating contents, and wide openings allow the gin to breathe.