The standards of hip are constantly evolving, but there's one popular standard that has withstood time and elements- the martini. In its various forms, the martini has been the cocktail choice for imbibing hipsters for over 130 years. A symbol of sophistication and influence, the martini is no ordinary cocktail. It is a statement, an indication of status, and for some, a way of life. Many pop culture favorites have been known to sip this concoction. James Bond and his famous "shaken, not stirred" order immediately comes to mind and is probably the best example of the typical martini drinker.
How did the martini come into existence? The originator of the drink, though rumors of its invention range from San Francisco to the far reaches of Italy, is unknown. Perhaps, like most cocktail recipes, it was invented by various bartenders and travelers spread the word of the drink. This was the 1870s, before patents, copyright infringements, rabid lawyers, and globalization. The earliest mention of the martini comes from a cocktail recipe book from before the turn of the 20th century where it's referred to as a Martinez. The recipe calls for four parts red Italian sweet vermouth and one part gin mixed with aromatic bitters and topped with a cherry. Around this time, the name was interchangeable between Martinez and Martini.
By the early 20th century, the Martini evolved into its better known recipe of gin, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters and the Martinez name was eventually phased out. The "dry martini" was introduced in the 1930s and consisted of one part dry vermouth to two parts gin, with bitters nowhere to be found and the cherry was replaced with the green olive. At the time, President Roosevelt was enthusiastic about martinis and often mixed in ingredients that were considered unconventional such as fruit juice and anisette (a colorless, licorice-flavored liqueur).
As the evolution of the martini continued into the mid-1900s, its popularity was on the rise. Major changes were made to the drink including the disappearance of bitters and the decreasing importance of vermouth. Marketing whizzes at Smirnoff began substituting vodka for gin. The combination of vodka and vermouth appealed to the modern man and the martini was defined as a man's drink. Martini lunches were trendy among businessmen and no hipster or member of the Rat Pack could be found without a martini glass firmly in hand. Experimentation in the 1960s led to the invention and subsequent popularity of light, fruity cocktails and the next decade ushered in a mellower way of life, thus ending the martini craze.
After a brief hiatus from the popular bar scene, the martini has made a huge comeback, though not entirely in the sprit in which it was intended. The desire for all things retro inspired the resurgence of martini popularity, but our taste buds weren't quite accustomed to the old-fashioned cocktail. The classic gin and vermouth martini can be quite a shock to someone accustomed to wine, beer, and what could be defined as "girl drinks" (pretty much anything with rum and a paper umbrella). Rather than stick to the classics, bartenders simply modified the recipe and sold it as a martini. Lounges and bars started providing martini variations, some of which stray so far from the original that only the glass remains the same. Cocktails such as Cosmopolitan and the Manhattan were suddenly being classified as martinis.
Today, most bars offer a Martini Menu which includes a variety of cocktails served in martini glasses. Some may attach a "girl drink" stigma to the modern martini because of its more palatable and often feminine form. The Martini Menu creators realized this at some point and added the traditional recipe to the list and refer to it as the guy's martini with whimsical but masculine names that vary from bar to bar. The martini purists frown upon the current craze of inventive cocktails passing themselves off as flavored martinis, but it's perfect for those who want to experiment with new drink combinations while maintaining a hip image.
In time, the traditional martini of the 19th century may work its way back onto drink menus. Meanwhile, enjoy some fine flavored martinis and mingle with the other sophisticates.
originally published in the February-March 2003 issue of Industry magazine.
Content on this site was originally written by Katharine Miller between 2000-2015. Many feature articles and interviews were published in print and on websites that no longer exist. Katharine is reproducing her written material here for portfolio and archival purposes only. Links and credits to clients and original publication will be included where possible.