Martini-Not-stirred-cocktai

On September 24, 1993, I walked out of the offices of the publisher Henry Holt, having just gotten my first book contract. Donna was with me to share my elation. It was my dad’s 55th birthday (he shared that day, BTW, with my literary hero, though not role model, Scott Fitzgerald)—an auspicious day. We could hardly believe it. Even Donna said it out loud to herself, a little incredulously, “My husband has a book contract.” I was thirty and had been trying to write books for nine years and had been writing daily since sixth grade.

We walked uptown to tell a friend the good news. I was sure I’d get hit by a bus. That’s me. When something this good happens, something worse has to happen as well.

On Park Avenue, a taxi with a flat tire zigzagged through traffic, the tire shredding and smoking, and a business man flung himself out of it, rolling onto the pavement in front of traffic.

I backed out of the crowd against the wall of a building. To Donna, I said “Drink?”

We headed to the first bar we could find, on Madison or Lex, can’t remember, an old-timey place, bartender in a white short-sleeved shirt and bow tie. I ordered a martini.

This was a martini I wanted badly, so rattled was I with dread and elation and the general over-stimulus of New York City. The tender poured the gin and vermouth into a clear glass with ice. Then he leaned against the bar to continue chatting with the only other customer at the bar at 3 p.m.

I couldn’t believe it. What was he doing? Then he continued to talk to the barfly. I kept looking at him. I looked at my drink not being served. I looked at the bartender, leaning lazily against the bar by the cash register. I kept doing this, and he kept chatting. This went on for five minutes. Or so it seemed. It was more likely a minute and a half to two minutes.

Just when I was about to remind him of my, um, order, he glanced at me as if to say, You got a problem?

He bent for a chilled glass, swirled the booze and ice a couple times, then strained it into the glass and twisted a lemon peel over it. Then he served it to me with a nod as if to say, “This, young man, is a martini.”

And it was. And remains my standard to this day.

Now, every time I’m served a martini that has been beaten to death in a shaker by the bartender and then poured into my glass with chunks of ice floating on top, I think of him, of that day, the book contract and the insane taxi.

 

The Martini

  • 2 to 3 ounces gin (depending)
  • 1 capful vermouth
  • Lemon twist
  1. Pour the gin and vermouth into a vessel filled with ice.
  2. Carry on a conversation for 90 seconds.
  3. Swirl the martini a few times to make sure it’s icy cold and diluted with exactly the right amount of melted ice.
  4. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a twist.
  5. (Optional) Kiss your partner and say, “What a day.” No matter what kind of day yours happens to be, it is a day and you are here to enjoy it with a perfect martini.

Photography by my fabulous wife, Donna Turner Ruhlman

If you liked this post on the martini, check out these other links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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25 Wonderful responses to “Cocktail Hour: The Martini
Not Even Stirred”

  • *susan*

    I do believe I have to wait just a few more hours, but sounds perfect right about now.

  • Amanda

    Michael, your writing makes me smile even though I am simply reading about a martini. Cheers to you.

  • Lori Rybka

    always look forward to your posts on Friday.
    i’ll have a dirty martini up w/olives please….

  • Joseph DeLuca

    As a professional bartender I’ve always been taught gentlemen and ladies should stir their martini. However, Harry Craddock writes in the Savoy Cocktail Book (who, by the way, began his US career here in Cleveland) it is to be shaken. Salvatore Calabrese (The Maestro) pours directly from a chilled bottle and floats dashes of vermouth on the surface when holding court behind the stick in London. After a quarter century of serving guests I’ve come to the conclusion that you should make them as you like them; just be sure it’s done with ritual and grace.

    • Topham Beauclerk

      So say we all … at least all of us that have any sense and don’t buy silly malarkey about a martini being “beaten to death.”

    • Emilia

      Joseph, I love this line you wrote about making cocktails “you should make them as you like them, just be sure it’s done with ritual and grace.” I totally agree.

  • Larry Wagner

    Michael, you are absolutely right, “What a day.” No matter what kind of day yours happens to be, it is a day and you are here to enjoy it with a perfect martini. Every day is a day that contributes something to your life as a whole.

  • Victoria

    It was a good day for the rest of us when you got that book contract – and then actually wrote the book.

    You would hate my martinis as I shake, shake, shake. But because I trust you implicitly since following your advice has never been in vain, I am going to take my Plymouth Gin and Noilly Prat and make my 5:00 o’clock martini your way with a toast to you and Donna with thanks for all the good writing, beautiful photographs, and delicious recipes.

    Here’s to you both.

  • Allen

    I like both versions, depending on what the climate is like. Hot weather,
    I want it shaken, with extreme prejudice.

    Either way, I will avoid these at all cost, like an E boil virus, for they are seductive poison.

    I say only one, but it ends up three, because the first one was so good, it distorts your good judgment.

    Wishing you all a happy Friday, with moderation on the martini, excess on the happiness!

  • Tags

    My favorite recipes are the ones with patience as the most important ingredient.

  • Allen

    As per Brad Thomas Parsons:
    a drop of orange bitters makes it even more appealing.
    Fuck moderation!

  • Kathy

    Just returned from vacation in paradise (Kauai) back to work today so this amuse bouche post is particularly poignant, being a native New Yorker living in So Cal. As usual you do not disappoint. Stellar martini. Thanks. What a day, indeed.

  • kevin slattery

    Michael,

    I love your writing, but I have to disagree here. The bartender was just being lazy. Throwing the ingredients in together does not infuse them. Shaking does that.
    The tender looked at you and realized he was dealing with an amateur and acted accordingly.

    Kevin Slattery

    • Michael Ruhlman

      there’s no “infusion” going on here. just dispersion. I was def an amateur tho. I did his method to the T yesterday and it was perfection.

  • Saratoga Curmudgeon

    Grace and ritual, as an earlier poster said, sums it up.

    My bartender treats his martini making with grace, and has said, many times, that he enjoys making that drink more than any other. And the results show it.

    As for ritual, mine is to have one of my rare martinis regularly on November 10th, the anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps. Not so much to recognize that I was a Marine, but more to remember one of my late friends who also was. We would do that ritual over a number of past years.

    Thank you, Michael, for pointing out what memories do in looking how we look at certain drinks, and also for your great writing, and Donna’s great photography

  • Doug

    I almost always agree with your techniques and proportions on drinks, Michael, but I like a bit more vermouth in my martinis, as you prefer in many of your other cocktails. I’m surprised by some of the comments as a martini is the one drink that above all others should never be shaken. Mine are always stirred, but I’d go with rested and poured over shaken. Make two martinis, one shaken and one stirred and put them next to each other and see which one you’re thirsty for: A cloudy shaken martini or a crystal clear stirred one?
    Love the grace and ritual comment, too.
    Cheers!

    • Michael Ruhlman

      Agree about the vermouth, but as the gin quantity depends here, quantity of vermouth is haphazard. In my first martini post I note my personal preference is a 5 to 1 ratio of gin to vermouth.

  • Steve

    I was a “shake” guy for a long time, influenced I’m sure by James Bond. But now I stir. And I stir properly with a proper bar spoon. And you have to get the proper amount of melt. I find the stirred martini is clear rather than hazy. And that makes me smile. Which is most of the point.

  • witloof

    This essay reminded me of traveling in Ireland and not understanding the ritual pouring of the Guinness — the men on their bar stools quietly waiting and waiting while their beers sat and sat and sat behind the bar while the bartender did heaven knows what — and me drinking my cider and innocently wondering why they didn’t start yelling.

  • Cathy

    Michael,

    Your martini making ritual sounds divine. My grandfather was a martini drinker and made his in a crystal pitcher, stirred with a crystal stirrer. He would open the vermouth bottle and pass the cap over the pitcher. “That’s a dry martini.”

    As your martini chills, let’s pause and remember Dorothy Parker, who so aptly declared, “I love a martini, but one at most. Two I’m under the table. Three I’m under the host.”

  • Allen

    Shaken, stirred, straight up.

    The major issue is no olives.

    You can’t be smug and arrogant without even offering one little puny olive.

    I get snobby here, they need to be substantial meaty olives, preferably home made.

    A twist, or even a dash of bitters is good, but for gods sake don’t leave out the olive.

    Goddamit!!

  • Angel Reyes

    This is an eye-opening post! Sadly, is 10am and I’ll have to wait a few hours to give the no-shake version a try (or do I???).
    Ps. I love the details on the recipe!

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