The Martini is in, the Martini is back—or so young friends assure me. At Angelo and Maxie’s, on Park Avenue South, a thirtyish man with backswept Gordon Gekko hair lowers his cell as the bartender comes by and says, “Eddie, gimme a Bombay Sapphire, up.” At Patroon, a possibly married couple want two dirty Tanquerays—gin Martinis straight up, with the bits and leavings of a bottle of olives stirred in. At Nobu, a date begins with a saketini—a sake Martini with (avert your eyes) a sliver of cucumber on top. At Lotus, at the Merc Bar, and all over town, extremely thin young women hold their stemmed cocktail glasses at a little distance from their chests and avidly watch the shining oil twisted out of a strip of lemon peel spread across the pale surface of their gin or vodka Martini like a gas stain from an idling outboard. They are thinking Myrna Loy, they are thinking Nora Charles and Ava Gardner, and they are keeping their secret, which is that it was the chic shape of the glass—the slim narcissus stalk rising to a 1939 World’s Fair triangle above—that drew them to this drink. Before their first Martini ever, they saw themselves here with an icy Mart in one hand, sitting on a barstool, one leg crossed over the other, in a bar small enough so that a cigarette can be legally held in the other, and a curl of smoke rising above the murmurous conversation and the laughter. Heaven. The drink itself was a bit of a problem—that stark medicinal bite—but mercifully you can get a little help for that now with a splash of scarlet cranberry juice thrown in, or with a pink-grapefruit-cassis Martini, or a green-apple Martini, or a flat-out chocolate Martini, which makes you feel like a grownup twelve years old. All they are worried about—the tiniest dash of anxiety—is that this prettily tinted drink might allow someone to look at them and see Martha Stewart. Or that they’re drinking a variation on the Cosmopolitan, that Sarah Jessica Parker–“Sex and the City” craze that is so not in anymore.
Not to worry. In time, I think, these young topers will find their way back to the Martini, to the delectable real thing, and become more fashionable than they ever imagined. In the summer of 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Hyde Park—it was a few weeks before the Second World War began—and as twilight fell F.D.R. said, “My mother does not approve of cocktails and thinks you should have a cup of tea.” The King said, “Neither does my mother.” Then they had a couple of rounds of Martinis.
I myself might have had a Martini that same evening, at my mother and stepfather’s house in Maine, though at eighteen—almost nineteen—I was still young enough to prefer something sweeter, like the yummy, Cointreau-laced Sidecar. The Martini meant more, I knew that much, and soon thereafter, at college, I could order one or mix one with aplomb. As Ogden Nash put it, in “A Drink with Something in It”:
There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth—
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.
He failed to include Dorothy Parker’s poem:
“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.”