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.
- 2 to 3 ounces gin (depending)
- 1 capful vermouth
- Lemon twist
- Pour the gin and vermouth into a vessel filled with ice.
- Carry on a conversation for 90 seconds.
- Swirl the martini a few times to make sure it’s icy cold and diluted with exactly the right amount of melted ice.
- Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a twist.
- (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:
- My recent cocktail posts on the Metropolitan, Sidecar, and Pimm's Cup.
- A quick history of the Martini from the the Nibble.
- Take a look at the book Martini, Straight Up by Lowell Edmunds.
- Learn how to make your own gin at home.
© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.