H. L. Mencken called it “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”, while Noel Coward thought it should be made by “filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Cocktail designer and Hix Soho-based ‘creative head of bars’ Dustin MacMillian has his own experientially based feelings about that most life enhancing of aperitifs, the martini.
It all begins with one simple question, “How would you like your martini, Sir?” Now before we go any further, (and yes I’m aware we’ve only just started), I should advise that when answering such an enquiry one must either be prepared to stick to a single drink, with the knowledge that one will soon be going home (possibly to a lonely studio flat, to eat canned soup not even prepared on the stove but by micro-electric currents in a box), or take the more sensible option of not having any option at all, leaving oneself unchained, except maybe to the bar, for, well, whatever comes next.
Sir replies, “I’ll have it whichever ways it’s going”. Being a sophisticated host, the barman would never embarrass a customer at a moment like this; so very calmly, in a reassuring voice, he says, “Leave it to me, Sir, I know just what you need”. With no specific direction given, the barman opts for house pour, to gently usher this man towards his first step into adulterated drinking. A sigh of relief perspires from Sir; only now has he had the courage to order such a classic drink, in a bar, on his own, while wearing a new suit, from Top Man, which he adjusts, unsure of himself in this reluctant purchase that he’s required to wear to his first grown-up job, and which is taking a little getting used to after years of faded denim and T-shirts stamped with stairways to heaven.
He fidgets as he sits nervously awaiting his drink. The barman knows more about this ingénue cocktail drinker’s first time than he does, just as he knows that the attractive blonde sitting further along the bar would never notice a man coming to terms with his new sense of self, or be aware of the mismatched socks on his feet, or the loose thread on the inside pocket of his jacket which he will later blame during the cruel realisation of his missing wallet (its absence discovered while hunting down late night, deep-fried chicken, due to the inevitable hunger brought on as reality sets in). No, the most visible tell-tale sign to the world is Sir’s horrific dismemberment of the beer-stained coaster in front of him, a behavioural quirk that four out of five therapists would diagnose as sexual frustration. If this is indeed the case, then he’s made an astute choice in the martini as the most advanced and appropriate cure. The time has come for this man to drown himself or swim, whichever comes first.
With the first sip, everything seems right, even the suit could now be made-to-measure. One martini to the good, and this man can suddenly see what everyone’s been talking about, and wonders how looking from the outside in with rookie lenses could have incited such a fear of what he now knows to be a simple, classically defined ‘what you see is what you get’ pastime. A perfectly mixed martini holds such a forceful and dramatic aura around it that, if it chooses to, it can alter everything you think you know.
The man turns to the aforementioned blonde a few seats along the bar from him and, with a cheeky smile, greets her with an uncharacteristically confident “hello”.
When an order for a martini is placed, it’s usually by someone who knows just how they like it, whether it’s gin or vodka, dry or wet, or with their choice of decorations. Cherished by the suave and the timelessly cool, playwrights – and the odd spy novelist – have long penned their characters with this drink in mind. The martini’s provenance is the silver screen’s decadent past; it belongs to true raconteurs with impeccable, exacting taste.
The origins of the martini’s conception is all a bit Tom Collins – passed-down stories that seem so obviously stretched that they are probably true, which only adds to its mysterious legend. Whatever the history, for the martini novice, its taste will take some getting used to; but as you mature, so does your view of the world around you, and it’s not uncommon to begin liking things that once made you sick. I remember a time when just the uttering of the word ‘beetroot’ would send me running; now I can’t get enough of it. So whether you are yet to embark on your first, or find yourself absolutely ready to imbibe, there is no greater pleasure than beginning the night, or long weekend, fuck, even a Monday lunch meeting, with the martini of your choice.
(reproduced courtesy of HIX magazine) www.hixrestaurants.co.uk