The Martini

Martini Cocktail recipe
A number of decades ago, I was lured away from gin by other liquors; namely whiskey, bourbon, and other non-clear libations. There were no martinis and no gin and tonics in my cocktail repertoire. Back in the day, I used to go out and have 3 or 4 martinis, and have a good time. Sometimes, someone at work would bring a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and we’d sit around the kitchen after our shifts ended, drinking cold martinis and eating leftover food from the evening service. (Actually, the line cooks only drank. After being around sugar, eggs, and butter all day, we pastry people gorged on anything that had vinegar, meat, or salt in it with our drinks.)

Martini Cocktail recipe

Other nights we’d go to places like the wacky Persian Aub Zam Zam where the owner would kick anybody out who: 1) Ordered anything other than a gin martini, and 2) Wanted to sit at a table. He thought, rightly, that you should only drink at the bar – and seated. To this day, I refuse to drink a cocktail standing up, and do whatever I can to sit at a bar when enjoying a cocktail. There was also a place in San Francisco called Bix, where martini glasses were upturned on a big silver tub of crushed ice, ready and waiting to be filled with ice-cold martinis that we liked as well.

Martini Cocktail recipe

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped drinking martinis but I do remember someone telling me that you shouldn’t drink gin if you ever plan on having plastic surgery because it does something to your skin. I know it sounds crazy, (that gin affects your skin, not that I would want to have plastic surgery…although I reserve the right to change my mind in the future) but that may have been a factor all the same. Another was that I started feeling not-so-great, and completely dehydrated, in the middle of the night after a couple of martinis – which is why I don’t drink much red wine anymore, because it has the same effect.

Yet like the corned beef on rye sandwich I demolished after eight years of being a vegetarian, the gin came a callin’ into my psyche, and when I was at the supermarket recently, I had a Proustian moment looking at a jar of pimento-stuffed green olives and decided I needed to bring them home. And a couple of them needed to be at the bottom of a martini, as in, immediately.

Martini Cocktail recipe

More than any other cocktail, the glass is important for martinis. As you can see, I didn’t use a classic martini glass this time around. I found these glasses at a thrift store, which reminded me of a cocktail you might get at a motel bar that didn’t have any pretensions. They also reminded me of Casa Orinda, where we often went for our Chez Panisse downstairs staff Christmas meals…until a famed, legendary, and late – and grouchy – columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, made fun of us for going out for fried chicken (and excellent inexpensive martinis) for our year-end fête.

Martini Cocktail recipe

You could get all fancy with artisan olives and so forth. Or – you could do them with the classic Spanish olive. I was tempted to drop in one of the giant caper berries that I got in Sicily, since they told me when I was there that it was very trendy to put them in martinis in certain places. But since I don’t do trendy very well, as much as I like them, I went with good ol’ pimento-stuffed olives.

Martini Cocktail recipe

I did, however, choose the brand of gin because 1) It was organic – which makes me kind of trendy, and 2) It was a brand I’d never heard of before. Gin has a lot of flavor. Some like gins that are very juniper-heavy and others go for the cheap stuff. Don’t knock it; I’ve had martinis that worked their magic, made from non-fancy gin.

Since it’s your cocktail, and you’re an adult – well, I hope so if you’re drinking cocktails — you can do whatever you want. Just be sure that it’s icy, icy cold. It’s widely believed that a few drops of orange bitters were part of the original martini and if you haven’t tried it, it’s worth giving it a shot – or a drop or two.

Martini Cocktail recipe

Print Recipe
Two cocktails
A popular way to make martinis back in the day was to add as little vermouth as possible, and people would make grand gestures, like putting some vermouth in the glass and shaking it out, accompanied by a lot of drama. Others would say something like “Just put the bottle of vermouth near the gin. That’s enough!” Well, it’s not. That’s not a martini. Vermouth should certainly be present, but slyly. Some people shake martinis, which yields a cocktail with teensy bits of ice floating on top, that’s extra-cold. I like them that way, too, although some purists insist that gin should never be shaken as it “bruises” it. Be sure to have your glasses well-chilled. Either put them in the freezer about an hour before you mix the drinking, or fill them with ice and add enough water to fill the glass. Pour out the ice water and vigorously shake out the excess water before pouring in the martini mixture.
5 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
2 olives
optional: a dash or two of orange bitters
1. Fill a small pitcher or cocktail shaker about halfway with ice. Add the gin, vermouth, and orange bitters, if using. Stir the mixture leisurely for at least 45 seconds, or until it’s very cold.
2. Put an olive into each chilled glass and strain the martini mixture into the two glasses.

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  • May 5, 2015 2:55pm

    this has me drooling and craving a martini and it’s not even 6am — those icy glasses!!

  • May 5, 2015 3:43pm

    David, thank you for your no-nonsense treatment of the classic martini. I’ve never been amused by the foolishness over the vermouth or the “bruising” of the gin. Puh-leez! As you might guess, I’m not one for “trendy” either.

  • May 5, 2015 3:59pm

    Thanks for NOT using Martini glasses. I could see some roadside b&b in California Gold Country serving up a Martini in little glasses like that. Ah!

  • Arlene
    May 5, 2015 4:15pm

    Having a martini makes anything feel like a celebration. For a very interesting, and humorous, martini story, here is a blog post by Michael Ruhlman:

  • Kate
    May 5, 2015 5:06pm

    Love this post! I am the same way, something will just hit me out of the blue. Like, today I want oysters, even though they have disgusted me before, and then that’s it, I love oysters!


  • E
    May 5, 2015 5:21pm

    And what business was it of Herb Caen’s (I assume he was the famous late grump) where you went and what you ordered???

  • Bad Kitten On A Rampage
    May 5, 2015 5:32pm

    Sweet Fancy Moses! Persian Aub Zam Zam and Bix were two of my all-time fave places when I lived in S.F. in the early 90’s . . . thanks for bringing back some great memories!!

  • farmerpam
    May 5, 2015 5:39pm

    Back in my waitressing days I had a customer that insisted the vermouth bottle be “waved” over the martini glass. And he watched as the bartender made a show of it. I, myself, prefer a dirty martini, with just a touch of that olive brine added.

  • Jennifer Grigg
    May 5, 2015 5:49pm

    Love your glasses! They are very similar in shape to the ones used here in London at Rules Bar in Covent Garden. One of the best bars here for classic cocktails (an American is behind the bar, I might add). My husband who makes and is always on the hunt for the perfect martini (and not just pure gin in a glass) says they are fabulous. I ordered a Manhattan and they asked if I wanted it ‘perfect’ or ‘dry’. Perfect, of course!

  • May 5, 2015 5:52pm

    Bix is still there! Always makes me feel like I’m in a “Thin Man” movie to sidle up to that bar and order a martini.

  • Judy Goldin
    May 5, 2015 5:55pm

    I’ve never had a martini but don’t like my drinks dry. What should b for?
    some people use vodka, instead of gin. I take it gin is the best.

  • Ellen
    May 5, 2015 6:01pm

    You’ve hit my sweet spot with this! Martinis have been my drink of choice for decades now, in and out of fashion. Fancy gin, down market gin, vermouth or Lillet and definitely orange bitters. And please no giant Martian looking olives — pimento stuffed are my choice.
    We won’t even discuss the idea that vodka is acceptable in a martini.

  • Christina
    May 5, 2015 6:02pm

    I’m with Leela! It’s only 11 am where I am but I crave a Martini this minute.
    I think it was Winston Churchill who wanted his Martini with the vermouth not in it but nearby.

  • dana
    May 5, 2015 6:06pm

    I love those not-so-martini glasses…..I’ll be hawking flee markets alike for them! xoxo

  • Susan
    May 5, 2015 6:21pm

    I’ve never really liked a martini, except as a marinade for the pimento stuffed olives and salted scallion tips that graced my Grand Mother’s relish tray on the Thanksgiving table! What ever happened to the relish tray?

  • Jim
    May 5, 2015 6:22pm

    I agree with the others. You write so well and descriptive that I am actually craving a martinni right now. Thanks for sharing!

  • Catherine Chevalier
    May 5, 2015 6:26pm

    David. I am coming to Paris for two months in September. Where can I find vermouth? Last time I was there (2008), I had a hard time finding an Anerican martini or vermouth.

  • MaryAlice
    May 5, 2015 6:42pm

    I have never stopped drinking martinis over 50plus years. I fix one every night in the exact proportion you have given. I learned in San Francisco (a native) at establishments like John’s, Sam’s Grill, Tadich, Enrico’s, and miss them all. I love all the new gins available, Junipero, along with the British Boodles, and my standby bottle, never empty, of Tangueray. It is necessary to remind people that a martini is gin and vermouth. And an olive.

  • Simon
    May 5, 2015 6:55pm

    You should try my favorite gin, G Vine. It’s French and very unusual. Even people who don’t like gin, like this one. Cheers

  • deborah
    May 5, 2015 6:57pm

    Thank you David for writing about the GIN martini, there is no other kind. It’s always been my favorite cocktail because of the botanicals that are unique to each gin and because of a favorite quote from a favorite femme, Dorothy Parker:

    “One martini, two at the most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host”.

  • May 5, 2015 7:13pm

    I only really like gin if it’s had sloes or damsons soaked in it! But my parents like it. We were very amused to find, on a holiday in France, a brand called “Old Lady” gin, and my mother said that as that’s what she is, she would buy some – and she found they really liked it! So I often buy her a bottle when I’m in France, as I am at the moment.

  • Helen
    May 5, 2015 7:20pm

    Ah, the memories: San Francisco in the 60’s and 70’s, Herb Caen and his must-read columns (very opinionated) and book (‘San Francisco’ with Dong Kingman), martinis on the beach, relish trays at family dinners and sunshine on the Golden Gate bridge.
    You have such a great blog, thank you David.

  • Tommy
    May 5, 2015 8:06pm

    Hi David, thanks for mentioning Casa Orinda. I’ve never been and will now go. I love fried chicken. I think it’s wonderful you went there for staff parties. Never let anyone tell you what to eat. It should vibe fun and delicious, what that is is personal. Just like a reviewer’s opinion. I’m not a gin man, now a side car with a boozy cherry or four…..

  • May 5, 2015 8:08pm

    I know you didn’t want to go all trendy but I have the perfect garnish for that martini – castelvetrano olives stuffed with a bit of preserved lemon – once you’ve tried these in a proper gin martini David you will never go back to the pimiento stuffed ones again!! Alas, you will actually have to stuff your olive yourself – but the results are definitely worth it!

  • May 5, 2015 9:11pm

    I have often heard from old school bartenders that an even number of olives was bad luck. I generally pay attention to old bartenders so I alway go for one or three olives, never two!

  • P Adams
    May 5, 2015 9:12pm

    I love having a Tanqueray martini on Friday night after a long hard week. It provides the perfect “Snap out of it!” reminder that it’s time to relax.

  • Michael
    May 5, 2015 9:24pm

    Oh what a lovely post. I saw a recent article saying that a martini without vermouth is just a glass of gin. I couldn’t agree more. Although my spouse and I for a time had joined the legions of folks drinking Hendricks, recently we’ve abandoned it in favor of classic London Dry gins. While you’re right that you can have a fantastic martini without a “top shelf” gin, our current favorite is Mayfair. And while I use a shaker, I use the rolling figure-eight motion (instead of vigorously shaking), oscillating the shaker until it’s so cold it makes my fingers hurt. That produces an icy martini that stays cold all the way to the bottom, and without the tiny ice pieces, which I (and some others) don’t prefer. But a beautiful post and BTW it’s just about cocktail time now….

  • May 5, 2015 9:45pm
    David Lebovitz

    Tommy: I haven’t been in decades but I wouldn’t be surprised if the quality was still the same (high). The fried chicken was great, as was the breaded (fried) chicken breast that they used to roll of Acme levain crumbs. And the cocktails were excellent.

    Michael: I had a shaken martini at the Four Seasons Bar in New York years ago because a friend who knows her cocktails said it was great and specifically, they had martini glasses that were flared but whose rim was ever-so-slightly indented in at the lip, so you didn’t spill it when you brought that first, all-important sip to your lips. I also remember the very tin slivers of ice floating on top, which were very refreshing. Points for shaken martinis!

    Tim: There was a great quote in the film Auntie Mame when she declines the olive(s) in her martini, responding that they “take up too much room in such a tiny glass.” It’s a great line. I never heard that about good vs. bad luck, but I have learned to listen to bartenders.

    Simon: I’ve not heard of it but people in France really don’t drink gin, in spite of the fact that there are some excellent gins made in France. I like Citadel but will keep my eye out for the one you mention.

    Catherine G: You can find Martini & Rossi vermouth at many supermarkets and liquor stores, but for better brands, check out places like Lavinia, La Maison du Whisky, and Julhès (which has unusual hours, so check their website.) btw; if you order a martini in a café in France, you’ll be served a glass of Martini and Rossi with an ice cube. A traditional martini (gin and vermouth) should be ordered in a proper bar. A great site for Paris bars is 52 Martinis.

    • Tommy
      May 6, 2015 12:40am

      OMG David, you’re so sweet, you really read and answer these comments, not some assistants assistant…….good for you! T

  • May 5, 2015 10:42pm

    I just got into martinis but still need a fair bit of vermouth, some olive juice and sub arctic temperatures to be able to finish it. Baby steps.

  • Melanie
    May 5, 2015 10:43pm

    We are great gin martini lovers in our family. Your ratio of 5:1 is perfect. Added necessity: put the gin, shot glass, mixing glass and stirring spoon in the freezer as well. Guaranteed cold martini.

  • Barbara Cury
    May 5, 2015 11:09pm

    After I turned 20, gin and I parted company. Happily, vodka, for me, was a superb replacement. A gin martini-drinking friend of mine explained how he adds 1 drop of scotch
    in his martini and finds this smooths the gin for an even more pleasurable drinking experience. It works well, too, in the vodka martini.

    P.S. If you are in Scotland, out of major cities, when you order a martini, specify you do not want Martini & Rossi, but a dry gin or vodka martini.

  • amy
    May 5, 2015 11:09pm

    If you can try to get your hands on Bar Hill Gin from Vermont it’s worth it — made from honey!

  • Bonnie
    May 5, 2015 11:34pm

    I recently bought some wonderful Carpano Tradtionally authentic Italian vermouth. Being an adult (of at least 67 yrs), I figured I could use this instead of the traditional French brands. Really nice and smooth. Have also experienced a similar event where “out of the blue” I developed a craving for Martinis! Wonder if it has anything to do with aging?

  • Jonathan
    May 6, 2015 12:00am

    My definition of an “adult” is a little different than yours. To me being an adult means you can have a shrimp cocktail for an appetizer and then Shrimp Scampi for an entree followed by another shrimp cocktail for desert. The joys of adulthood!

  • Daniel
    May 6, 2015 12:07am

    GIN ugh, Potato vodka, colossal olives (no pimento) and forget the vermouth.

  • tara@littlehomekitchen.wordpress
    May 6, 2015 12:09am

    Oh David, you’re not fooling me about being off the gin, you with your (much envied in these parts) cask of negronis in your house! But I do believe you about not having martinis for a while. It’s nice to come back to them, isn’t it?

    Years ago when I was working at the Daily Planet (a restaurant/bar in VT) the bartender said he would make me a special after-work drink. I like a surprise, so I said yes, and minutes later he handed me a frozen drink. Hmm. Daiquiri? No. Margarita? No. What was it? A frozen gin martini. As much as I love a martini (not to mention a free drink!) I have to say it was HORRIBLE. I like mine frosty, but that was a little too much!

  • Trevor
    May 6, 2015 1:04am

    Hate olives: a twist of lemon peel is great. With a drop of Angostura. And just keep a bottle of Tanqueray in the freezer, saves bother. Also, dry white Martini & Rossi (which is damn difficult to find in France) has a completely different taste and colour to Noilly Prat or Dolin, and to my mind much better.

  • Maria
    May 6, 2015 1:07am

    Dolin is the _best_! I think people who hate on vermouth in martinis have never had good vermouth.
    A local liquor store [in Boston] once did a vermouth tasting with Dolin in the lineup and it changed my life…. I mean, not really, but it definitely took my Saturday night martini to the next level. This particular store used to be the only ones that stocked Dolin and I’d go out of my way for it, but now I think it’s just about everywhere.

  • Anne Talley
    May 6, 2015 1:13am

    Ah, Herb Caen…how I miss that old crabpot. I grew up reading his column. He would have been fun to drink with, even if he insisted having vodka martinis instead of gin….

    David, you’ve decided tonight’s happy hour for me–we’ll have martinis and toast you and old Herb.

  • May 6, 2015 1:34am

    David! My family grew up in Orinda and my sister and I would always have our birthday dinner at Casa Orinda. We are now both back in SF and go there as often as possible (aka every Sunday). It’s still how we remember: hand’s down the best fried chicken and cocktails. Love the chilled plates for the caesar salad. Love that the Chez Panisse staff would do Christmas there! Killer choice.

    We’re all such huge fans of you and your work. You’re a hysterical genius. Cheers to you!

  • 毛周
    May 6, 2015 5:28am

    David, fabulous post! I didn’t learn to do a proper martini until I was 50. Took a class in Beijing w my daughter. The bartender was Parisian and had worked in London and NYC as well. Your recipe is perfect. cheers!

  • Kenny
    May 6, 2015 5:37am

    My new classic is a Lillet blanc martini. Littet Blanc is much like Vermouth, but without the soap. Try it ice cold. You might just add it to your stable of favorites.

  • Shari Saunders
    May 6, 2015 6:10am

    Hi David, I enjoyed your post. St George’s,in Alameda CA, makes an absolutely delicious Terroir Gin based on the botanicals of Mt Tam: bay laurel, fennel, Douglas fir etc. Highly recommend : )

  • JoeT
    May 6, 2015 8:25am

    Herb Caen? It was amazing he could grind out a column every day after drinking late into every night with a female companion on each arm. They knew words back then!

  • Sandra Alexander
    May 6, 2015 9:04am

    Once found out the hard way that it’s possible to drink tee many martoonis!

  • May 6, 2015 9:58am

    Ah, David, you make the martini making magical! Though I am scandalous and drink vodka martinis instead of gin!

  • Louise Fazzalari
    May 6, 2015 12:05pm

    Wonderful post as usual.
    Sometime back we took your advice and visited La Maison du Whiskey in Paris,now it is on a regular basis.We found a fabulous Saffron Gin there ,made in Dijon .We are lovers of G&T’s ,sadly they no longer stock this gin, they have a huge variety to choose from ,but this was the winner.
    I think we will find it very easy to move over to your martini recipe in the future, to alleviate our disappointment.

  • May 6, 2015 2:23pm

    Interesting to hear that you were vegetarian for 8 years. If you don’t mind me asking, what led you to become (and un-become) become vegetarian?

  • Chris
    May 6, 2015 5:09pm

    I don’t know about “bruising” the gin — sounds like nonsense — but someone once told me that shaking aerated the drink and made it feel less smooth on the tongue. Not a martini drinker myself (G&T please!), so don’t know if that’s correct but it sounds reasonable to me. Do you think?

    • Maozhou
      May 6, 2015 6:36pm

      It DOES change the taste because shaking aereates (sp) the gin more and adds tiny ice crystals so there is more water than in a stirred cocktail but bruising is the wrong term and used by, well, the uninformed.
      Here is an interesting bit from Wikipedia,_not_stirred

  • Mary Beepa
    May 6, 2015 7:43pm

    I hope you get back to the Casa Orinda some day, nothing has changed. Still one of my familie’s favorite go to places for birthdays and whenever we want some still delicious fried chicken. I think you may even see some of the same people at the bar that you encountered when going there, still drinking the classic martini!
    By the way, the town that I live in is famous for inventing the martini, Martinez, CA, check it out, interesting story.
    Thank you for your always entertaining and enlightening blog.

  • May 6, 2015 10:43pm

    I’ve never heard about gin affecting one’s plastic surgery, but if it’s any consolation my mother drinks only gin and had a great (two decades and counting) result with her facelift.

  • Deborah
    May 6, 2015 11:31pm

    David, we’re in our second decade of taking the back road over the Oakland Hills through Canyon, a classic pastoral California drive, to go to Casa Orinda. Rumor has it that their fried chicken recipe was acquired from the real Col. Sanders back in the day when Casa Orinda was a roadhouse and the Colonel traveled around the country selling his recipe in person to interested cooks. It’s still wonderful, completely old school in the best sense. Comes with divine biscuits with a crispy crust giving way to a pillowy center. The martini is the perfect antidote to all those dietary lipids.

  • charlton holland
    May 7, 2015 1:35am

    Love the recipe. I drink in many places a LOT of Martinis. Several comments. The glass is not right. Nora Charles would not like it. Must use the traditional. That glass gives you the experience of drinking from a tea cup. I bemoan the trend of restaurants that use boutique gins. That is OK as long as the standards (e.g., Beefeaters, etc.) are offered too. But they do not. I assume the owners do not drink much because they also usually offer Martinis in glasses WITHOUT A STEM!! Nora Charles would have a heart attack. My best Martini was at the Julies Verne in Paris. Traditional glass, great gin, poured from a separate carafe.

  • Heart
    May 7, 2015 4:35am

    I’m with Daniel, potato vodka is smoooth… (& doesn’t put on the pounds ;)

    Also: Loved the Dorthy Parker line, Thank you deborah.

    David, what can I say… You Are the Best! <3

  • May 7, 2015 7:10am

    the nice thing about your blog is that you can title a post with something so classic, like a martini, and it will be definitive. i love it.

  • abe
    May 7, 2015 4:03pm

    Unrelated to this post, but i wanted to let you know Perfect Scoop made list!


  • David
    May 7, 2015 11:56pm

    Enjoying “one” now. Stopped bothering with vermouth because the tenders couldn’t seem to control themselves. Thank you for sharing as always. You hit the mark on this one.

  • Oh yum! I’ve only become a fan of gin within the last few years. I think it may have been due to only being introduced to cheap, heavily juniper-flavored gins. Currently, I’m a big fan of 209 Gin, as it’s made locally in the Bay Area. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  • Sandra
    May 9, 2015 12:23pm

    Your recipe about martinis reminded me of a story of my first martini(s) I had in NYC. It was for a cousin of Mike’s and all their family was there. Sorry to have to say, but the wait staff was overwhelmed and everything was slow as molasses, except the bar. Mike’s aunt and I both ordered dirty martinis at the recommendation of the waiter. They were complete with the Bombay Sapphire and olive juice, which gave the liquid its cloudy look and also had a spike of very large green olives. It was the first one I had and it was yummy. Then I began to get giddy, as I had not had anything to eat in a while. Both Sandys were giddy and we decided to have a second martini. I don’t remember if dinner ever came, but walking back to wherever the car was, with Mike, I was hysterical laughing and, have since only had one at a time. And I do have the ingredients in the house!!

  • Sandra
    May 9, 2015 12:24pm

    My previous comment–was about a birthday party…..

  • FoodGeekGraze
    May 9, 2015 10:32pm

    i want to steal your stemware. seriously love love love :-)

  • May 10, 2015 10:44am

    I’m not a massive martini drinker (more of a Negroni girl ;)) but I wished i liked them more – there is a magic about ordering a martini that is simply lacking in other cocktails! That said, I had an espresso martini that knocked my socks off last week! Love the images.

  • Darcie
    May 10, 2015 4:18pm

    Prairie gin is excellent, but there’s another Minnesota gin that’s even better – Solveig gin. It’s not organic (but is made from non-GMO rye), and the flavor is sublime. I doubt you will be able to find it in France, but perhaps on your next trip to the States you can give it a spin. It is not juniper heavy, but has very interesting flavors including citrus, pine cones, a hint of lavender, thyme & coriander.

    PS I am not in any way affiliated with Far North Spirits, I just drink a lot.

  • May 10, 2015 11:20pm

    There is just nothing like a well made martini! It’s so interesting to read all the takes there are on one drink…glasses, ice-cold, check; good gin…for me it’s Tanqueray, check; vermouth a tiny amount, check and a trick someone told me a hundred years ago was to splash a smidgen of scotch over the “rocks,” then proceed with vermouth and gin…smooth! Hold that olive and make mine a twist! Cheers!

  • Tracy
    May 13, 2015 7:41pm

    Bix has absolutely the best martini I have ever had. It may be the Dolin Vermouth, it may be the castevetrano olives they stuff with delicious blue cheese, it may be the neon sign that hangs in the dark empty alley inviting you in to enjoy one. I’m not sure, but it’s one of my favorite spots to go up the city by the bay…