‘Tinis are big.
The martini, that quintessential ‘50s and ‘60s cocktail, has made a huge comeback.
In L.A., San Francisco, and even Seattle, a new breed of bar dedicated to martinis has become the place to hang, attracting both young hipsters and aging Baby Boomers. “Do you prefer Beefeater or Boodles?” may soon replace “What’s your sign?” as a classic come-on.
Blame this trend on nostalgia for a simpler time. (Ah, remember those three-martini lunches…)
The martini revival also celebrates glamour. Sipping martinis in a darkened bar is so film noir, so William Powell. Even the shape of the traditional martini glass has a certain sex appeal.
Aside from all the buzz, there’s much debate about exactly what makes for a good martini. Aside from Frank Sinatra crooning in the background, that is.
Eric Galbraith, one of the martini masters at Milford’s, said the trick is to use very little vermouth.
“So many people ask for a good brand of gin or vodka and that’s what they want to taste, not the vermouth,” Galbraith said.
Kathy Sattler at the SS Beryl doesn’t use any vermouth.
“Over the years, you learn what people like,” said Sattler, who has been bartending for 37 years.
Lauren Bacall once said she made the perfect martini by simply passing a bottle of vermouth over the iced gin. Other martini lore has it that Winston Churchill’s preferred method of mixing was to glance at the bottle of vermouth across the room.
The basic martini recipe varies little. It’s just gin and a touch of vermouth shaken with ice and poured into a glass with olives. Still, there are plenty of ways to go wrong.
It’s the tiny details that give some martinis star quality.
First, you’ve got to use top-quality liquor. Bombay Sapphire gin is widely considered the ultimate fodder for martinis. But there’s also a case to be made for the spiciness of Tanqueray, the smooth character of Beefeater, the zing of Gordon’s or the understated elegance of Boodles.
(I realize some people prefer vodka, but technically, that’s an entirely different drink. It’s called a vodkatini.)
Next, all the ingredients must be ice cold. We’re talking glacial, here.
The best martini I’ve ever tasted was in a bar where they actually chilled the glasses.
In the lounge at Seattle’s Mayflower Park Hotel - winner of last year’s Martini Classic in that city - the bartender achieves the big chill by using the James Bond blending technique. That’s shaken, not stirred, darling.
“If you shake it, you’ll find microscopic bits of ice when you pour it in the glass,” said Mark Nowak, the hotel’s general manager.
Why go to all the trouble?
“There’s nothing worse than warm gin,” he said.
Then, the olives should be fat things. In an ideal world, there would be three pimento-stuffed green things skewered on your toothpick, leaning lazily against the side of your glass.
Finally, martini drinking calls for some hip digs. Dim lighting is essential, as are good eats, comfy chairs and, as I mentioned before, Sinatra on the sound system is a must. OK, I’ll settle for Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, or at one spot, the soundtrack to “Pulp Fiction” seemed perfectly apropos. But Top-40 just doesn’t mix with martinis.
After scouring Spokane for the perfect martini, I’ve come up with a few cocktail lounges and a couple of restaurants that seem to have the right stuff.
So here’s the skinny, Jack. And by the way, Happy Valentini Day.
Milford’s, 719 N. Monroe.
Belly up to the gorgeous wooden bar and watch the pros free pour with finesse. These classy surroundings have the kind of old-fashioned appeal that screams out for a classic cocktail.
And, the bartenders at Milford’s deliver.
My drink was steely cold and smooth. But what made this the straight-up best ‘tini in town were the plump olives. That, and the sassy banter with our bartender.
Bonus points for the Goldfish crackers on the table.
SS Beryl, 6404 N. Wall.
Talk about a time warp. This place is pure retro, circa 1970s. And I mean that in the best possible way.
I got a kick out of the one wall dominated by the huge wheel, which was still decorated in glittery holiday garland. I also loved the swivel chairs on casters. They could give table hopping a whole new meaning.
Our bartender/server made martinis like a seasoned vet. I watched as she swished the olives around the outside of the empty glass and later asked her “What’s up with that?”
She wouldn’t dish.
“It’s my secret,” she said.
Bonus points for sheer strength. The ‘tinis were mighty strong at the SS Beryl. (Don’t worry I had a designated driver.)
There’s also a good bar menu, including a dynamite shrimp cocktail and an incredible lemon meringue pie. (I know it doesn’t go with martinis, but I couldn’t resist.)
The only minor improvement I would suggest making in the SS Beryl’s Chartroom is to beef up the size of the olives and silence those “Air Supply” tunes.
Fugazzi, 1 N. Post.
What can you say about a place where they use Bombay Sapphire as the house pour for its martini?
Yup, it’s terrific.
Well-mixed and nicely presented, the Fugazzi martini is tough to top. Especially if you order the smoked salmon eggrolls to nosh with your drink.
The only thing holding me back from giving this sophisticated downtown venue an all-out rave is that there is no lounge to, well, lounge around. Not yet, anyway. Look for the addition of a separate bar area in the coming months.
Cesares at Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park, 303 W. North River Dr.
This little-known lounge with a knockout view has a clubby feel with its overstuffed couches and free happy hour hors d’oeuvres.
The bartender doubles as a server here, so you might have to be patient if there’s a crowd. But on the night I sipped, his ‘tinis were right on target.
Bonus points for the bowl of free pretzel mix.
Ankeny’s, 515 W. Sprague.
Another retro haunt with a ‘70s feel, Ankeny’s should make for a great before-dinner drink stop.
There’s the view, of course. And a good selection of appetizers from which to choose.
But a recent martini tasting started on a sour note. Our tres expensive drinks were served at room temperature.
Instead of spoon-feeding it ice from my water glass, I called our waitress’s attention to this glaring error.
She returned the drinks to the bar for another dash against the rocks. The second time around was much improved, but the server wasn’t particularly gracious about having to make that extra trip. I didn’t feel much like lingering after that.
Cucina! Cucina!, 707 W. Main.
Surprisingly good cocktail, served up nice and icy. Our server earned a gold star for fetching us extra olives.
The top-notch crispy calamari makes a good match for the martinis here, as does the focaccia.
Ultimately, though, this place is way too bright and cheery to be a true martini hangout.
Suki Yaki Inn, 119 N. Bernard
This dark watering hole is definitely the turf of young swingers. It takes on a frenetic beat after 9.
Or, maybe that just had to do with the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack thumping on the sound system. Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.
I thought the martini maker at the Suki poured a good stiff one, but I’m going to have take points off for the glass. It was one of those old-style champagne goblets.
Mixing sushi and martini might sound like a nightmarish combo, but it works. Try it, you’ll like it.
Other contenders: Rock City Grill (martinis were not nearly frigid enough), Europa (nice setting, but beer and wine goes better with pizza), Hill’s Someplace Else (decent drink, but wrong kind of glass) and the new Bayou Brewing Company (one measley olive and it was tepid. Stick to the suds there).
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