Kansas, the 1960s
I was a teenager when I learned about the world’s most iconic cocktail by reading The New Yorker and books about the Jazz Age and watching late-night, black-and-white films like MGM’s The Thin Man series. (Myrna Loy and William Powell sure could knock ’em back.)
New York City, the 1970s
I drank my first martini at the Russian Tea Room in New York shortly after I’d turned 20. It was made with vodka, extremely dry, and served in the standard v-shaped glass RTR still uses today. I was euphoric from the first sip. The drink was so chillingly cold and clear, slightly salty from the three olives impaled on an RTR-branded wooden skewer, and it seemed more sophisticated than anything I’d ever consumed. I loved the experience of having my first martini. So that night, I had two.
Five decades later, I’m still a diehard fan of super-dry martinis, and I enjoy both the gin and vodka varieties. Over the years, I’ve noticed the type of martini I order or make at home seems to depend on my mood, how I feel about things, and whether I’ll be eating dinner afterward or just having a drink or two.
Smooth and clean, vodka martinis are my go-to choice before dinner. Strong but not overly assertive, they serve nicely as a high-octane apéritif. While vodka is considered a “neutral spirit” across brands, its subtle flavors cover a wide gamut. For a slightly peppery martini, I prefer Stolichnaya; for crisp and clean I lean toward Absolut or Belvedere.
Gin martinis have long been my choice for cocktail hour. A dry London gin’s bold, complex flavor is both earthy and piney. Brands like Beefeater, Tanqueray, and Bombay Sapphire, flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals, such as coriander, cardamom, and citrus peel, hold their own with salted nuts and other bar snacks.
Vermouth and Garnish
I have personal preferences. To my taste, vodka martinis benefit from the savory flavor of olives. (But one olive or three—never an even number.) And for me, gin martinis are at their best with a lemon twist to brighten and freshen the botanicals. As for vermouth, I follow Patrick Dennis’ approach: add a splash to the glass, swirl, and pour it out.
While I’ve used the classic v-shaped cocktail glass for decades, I’ve recently been using my Nick and Nora glasses. They’re a fun reminder of the images I saw as a teen watching William Powell and Myrna Loy knock ’em back in The Thin Man.
Ultimately, the best way to decide which type of martini is right for you is to try both and see which one you enjoy. And remember, Nick Charles was a fictional character. No one can drink like he did—although it’s fun to watch Powell milk the character for all it’s worth.