Possibly the best-known cocktail ever to have been shaken or stirred, the Martini is kind of the Quarterback of the Cocktail List.
It’s so glamorous that you want to hate it a bit, but it’s just so good that you reluctantly acknowledge that it is the most important cocktail on your list.
And after a couple of these cold, clear, razor-sharp beauties, you start to think how much you’d like to shake the hand of the genius who invented it.
Well, bad luck. While there are many who would like to claim the title, we really don’t know who invented it, not do we know where.
What does seem highly likely though, is that the Martini evolved, at least in part, from the Martinez.
The Martinez deserves a place on the IBA’s list of The Unforgettables, alongside the Martini, the Negroni, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.
But the Martinez is neglected, treated like the soap opera roles stars of screen and sound had to take before their proper careers took off.
It happened, but we don’t talk about it. Do we, Melissa George?
Here’s the story.
The Martinez first appeared in print in O.H. Byron’s Modern Bartender’s Guide back in 1884 and calls for Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. It’s sort of like a sweet Martini or a gin Manhattan.
Old Tom Gin is a recipe that was popular in England in the 18th Century. It is less botanical than many modern gins and is sweeter than London Dry and drier than Dutch Jenever (Genever if you prefer). It works with the sweet vermouth and other ingredients to make this a very different cocktail to a Dry Martini.
Jerry Thomas is credited by some as having created the cocktail when he was tending bar at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel (built in 1861, closed in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires), but the City of Martinez, California really, really, really wants us to give it to them.
The story goes that a prospector who’d just struck it rich, bellied on up to the bar in 1874 with a fistful of gold nuggets and asked bartender Julio Richelieu for a bottle of his finest champagne.
Upon being advised that to no such bottle was available, Yosemite Sam challenged Richelieu to serve up “something special” (hopefully he said “tarnation” in there somewhere too) and Richelieu concocted the “Martinez Special” out of gin, vermouth and orange bitters.
The Martinez town claim is that this then spread, with bartenders in San Francisco being asked to replicate something that was loosely described as having gin and vermouth in it, and after a few of those, it’s just easier to drop the “Z” and say Martini.
They’ve invested in this folklore and got themselves a plaque in Martinez, declaring itself the birthplace of the Martinez cocktail, and sure, I’m happy enough to support their claim.
But when the whistle blew at doubtlessly historic Martinez on my recent research trip, somehow I opted to stay on my Amtrak train and push on to San Francisco to see how the finer bars there were interpreting the cocktail and it’s descendants.
Stookey’s Club Moderne offered shelter from the rain, a sophisticated but relaxed vibe and a welcome respect for this piece of cocktail history.
I tried two to be sure it wasn’t a fluke (it wasn’t, put this bar on your list) and as the outside temperature dropped and my inner glow grew, it occurred to me that we’re all guilty of denying the Martinez its place in history.
Sure, it’s not the Quarterback married to a Super-model, so we wouldn’t be nearly as interested in it and you certainly wouldn’t expect to see it reflected in movies, or television or music quite as much.
But not once?
Not a single reference could I find (please, please tell me in the comments if you know of one) in popular culture or classic movies.
In fact to find an appropriate reference to uphold this blog’s promise of dodgy cultural references for each cocktail, I had to go to Santa Barbara.
Not the city, but the soap opera, where in the 1980s and 1990s, one A Martinez played Cruz Castillo against his soap super-couple counterpart, Marcy Walker’s Eden Capwell (you know the story – rich white shoulder-padded girl and poor muscly Latino guy in tight t-shirts and jeans initially dislike one another before falling in love and battling the odds to make their love accepted – the usual 1980s soap story-line).
Because it was on when I was knee-deep in University studies, I watched Santa Barbara a lot.
I liked it less than Days of Our Lives or The Bold and the Beautiful but more than the Young and the Restless, and it regularly passed an hour that might otherwise have been squandered at the library.
Reviewed as the worst television show ever made when it debuted (possibly not undeservedly), there’s not a lot that you can say was culturally important about it.
Except it launched the career of the spectacular Robin Wright.
Yes, she of Buttercup in the greatest movie ever made (yes it is, no correspondence will be entered into on this), The Princess Bride, she of Jenny Curran from Greenbow, Alabama in Forrest Gump.
And now of course, she of the highest, sharpest heels and steeliest-eyed determination in House of Cards, the clear, cold, razor-sharp Claire Underwood.
Let us not deny our pasts, for we are the sum total of all our experiences and shitty soap opera appearances.
So this weekend, do your bit to honour your elders and order up a Martinez. Or a Martini.
As you wish.