the art of the martini

William Powell in his first scene in The Thin Man. 1934.

I’m not a professed connoisseur of cocktails. Wine has always been my game — less fussy, more to-the-point. I can get a glass myself. Whereas with cocktails, I’ve always felt that I needed to understand not just one ingredient (grapes) and one, relatively straightforward process (yes, I understand the complexity, but you know what I mean) but rather multiple ingredients, proportions, processes, and so forth. Making a drink begins to feel like I am performing a chemistry experiment, and one I’m pretty confident will go south at a moment’s notice.  With wine, all the chemistry was done before I arrived on the scene. (I did, in a brief moment of insanity, buy a book of cocktail recipes. I then proceeded to more or less waste a perfectly good bottle of tequila, vermouth and gin over the next few days. Despite my good intentions, I was told, not very kindly I might add, to step away from the liquor cabinet.)

I can really make only one cocktail: the martini. Gin or vodka, I’m your girl. Really. Arcticly cold, with three olives (not two, as so many chintzy bartenders insist on offering) and a very, very little splash of olive juice from the jar. The proportions of vermouth to the gin and the vodka are my special secret, but trust me, they do vary. Significantly. I prefer to pour them into Thin Man-sized martini glasses, but it’s almost impossible to find anything that isn’t closer to the massive, Crate & Barrel species of glass that seems to be in favor at the moment.

When your glass is small, and you need to fill it frequently, many wonderful things happen:

  1. your martini stays cold while you drink it to completion,
  2. you realize you’re enjoying drinking a lot of martinis as martini numero tres goes down the hatch, and
  3. it feels like a party when you’re repeatedly using the alcohol and ice-filled martini shaker as a maraca to provide refills all around.

For a while, I had a policy of dressing for martinis. You know, put on a dress and some sparkle and whatnot. Having a child put the brakes on that particular practice, but I do like the idea of at least applying a little lipstick, and fixing the messily cobbled together bun. (I now think of it as a trendily “casual up-knot,” without really adjusting my technique in any way.) But, if I had it my way, I’d be having martinis, in a gown, at the Carlyle in New York City, enjoying my tipsy compatriot lounging on a leather club chair.

What I enjoy about cocktails is less the actual drink, although I know they can be tasty and fun, but rather the entire hoopla around them. What’s hoped for, what’s expected. An air of rough and sophisticated manners — but manners, anyway — overlapping. Witness Nick and Nora Charles: the trappings of cocktail culture are just as delicious as the drink itself.

mother of pearl earrings

Silvia Furmanovich


Temperly London 1930s-inspired peach silk gown

vintage martini glasses, c. 1935


The Carlyle Hotel, New York City