Glamour With A Twist: Martinis

About eight years ago, just as the Sex and the City-fueled cosmo craze was starting to quiet down, I went on my first date with my now-husband. We went to a cool (for Baltimore) restaurant that boasted of an extensive “martini menu.”

Pickle juice martini After seating us, the hostess handed each of us a tall, skinny paper menu listing all of the bar’s martini options. As she walked away and we started reading, we both started laughing – the drinks had about as much in common with martinis as Manolos do with Old Navy flip flops. Yes, they are both shoes. But that’s about it.

Our favorite was nothing more than Southern Comfort and lime juice, shaken with ice and served in a martini glass. A pretty far cry from 007’s regular cocktail.

Since that night, bars’ and restaurants’ desire to put absolutely anything, regardless of ingredients, in a martini glass seems to have died down a bit. But the definition of “martini” has definitely loosened up since the cocktail’s beginnings. Originally a simple combination of gin and vermouth, vodka martinis gained popularity in the 1960s and James Bond himself took some liberties with the recipe when he requested a combination of vodka, gin, and Kina Lillet (now called a Vesper) in Casino Royale.

Reckless as he may be, though, it’s awfully hard to imagine Bond ever ordering an appletini or anything involving chocolate liqueur. A flirtini for the special agent? Somehow I doubt it.

In business school speak, what does this free-for-all expansion mean for the core martini brand? So far, it doesn’t seem to have suffered that much. The traditional martini – gin or vodka – maintains its glamorous image despite its many unworthy imitators.

But why? Is it the drink’s history? Its Bond associations? Its pristine clarity? Or is it because drinking a martini without ending up on the floor demonstrates a certain type of strength – alcohol tolerance – that’s associated with the glamorous men and women of earlier eras?

All of the above, most likely. And let’s hope that’s all enough to keep defending the martini from its imitators. Special Agent Bond will thank us.

[Photo: A gin and pickle juice (yes, pickle juice) martini that I couldn't quite finish last week.]