In search of a good martini

Why is it so hard for bartenders to make the martini; a drink that is, essentially, nothing more than gin with a dash of dry vermouth?

I ask this question after having had one such drink last night.  It was disappointing, to say the least.

The setting: the famously old-fashioned cocktail lounge at Winnipeg’s Rae and Jerry’s Steak House.

The request: Bombay Sapphire martini; dry; straight up; with a twist.

The result: a tepid elixir, heavy on the vermouth, garnished with a hunk of lemon pith.

Worse, this hallowed beverage, which H.L. Mencken dubbed “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet,” was served in a cocktail glass entirely unbecoming of its station: the rim was rounded rather than cut, the stem fat and and unwelcoming to my fingers.

I admit, criticizing the glass in which the martini was served is patronizing; but there is absolutely no excuse for shoddy construction.

For me, that first sip is a rite I repeat each time I have the occasion to order such a drink: the anticipation as I lift the frosted glass off the table, admiring the twist suspended in that slightly cloudy liquid; the scent of the gin, with all its mysterious botanicals, tickling my nostrils as I bring the rim of the glass to my lips.

If mixed properly, that first sip is cold and dry and exhilarating – like a winter morning on the Canadian prairie.  This martini was none of those things; on the contrary, it was akin to a rainy Ottawa afternoon in late April, which is ironic, considering it was in Ottawa – at Hy’s Martini Ranch, no less – where I last had a good one.  (Make no mistake, however; I’d never set foot in the place were it not for the fact that they make such a mean drink.  Hy’s represents everything I loathe about Ottawa: drab, stuffy, crawling with political hacks.)

What, you ask, made Hy’s martinis so good?

For starters, they respect your order.  Bombay Sapphire martini; dry; straight up; with a twist.  It actually meant something to the bartender.

As important, they also respect the drink itself.  It was always served iced cold – the liquid slightly cloudy on account of the gin having been so thoroughly bruised – in a high-quality cocktail glass, in homage to its status as the drink of world leaders, secret agents and literary giants of yore.

And that first sip?  Sublime.

Sadly, I cannot say the same about last night’s martini.  Not even close.

The search continues.

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