Thursday, May 28, 2009

A (Very) Classic Dry Martini

More often than not, most people nowadays think of the Dry Martini as vodka based, shaken, with lots of ice and maybe just a touch of vermouth. Some bartenders leave out the vermouth entirely, going so far as proclaiming "Vermouth is for Cream Soup," as one well known bartender does here in San Francisco at the Connecticut Yankee. While the above preparation works well for some, it is a far cry from the original Dry Martini.

Historically, the Martini has been gin based, with a much higher proportion of dry vermouth. David Wondrich, acclaimed writer and authority on all things cocktails, discusses this issue in his book, Imbibe! (Penguin Books, 2008).

references an early Dry Martini recipe, originally published in the Hoffman House Bartender's Guide from 1906. This recipe used equal parts vermouth and gin, along with a few dashes of orange bitters. It's important to use a classic London Dry style of gin in order to hold up to the vermouth. While modern and lighter citrusy gins such as local favorites Sarticious and N. 209 are great in their own right, they will not provide the balance necessary in this drink. Use more juniper forward gins like Beefeater, Tanqueray, or Bombay. If you prefer local craft spirits in your drink, Anchor Distilling's Junipero Gin works well. The vermouth should be the dry French Noilly Pratt, and the orange bitters can be Regan's #6. This drink should be stirred, not shaken, with chunks of good quality ice, store bought or made with purified water. Due to the subtleties of the drink, high quality ice is more important here than with a juice based cocktail.

Few bars will likely list this type of Martini on the menu, though most should be able to make it with some guidance. However, one bar in particular, the legendary Pegu Club of New York City, offers a variation of this classic style called the Fitty Fitty.

Fitty Fitty Martini

1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Few dashes of orange bitters

Stir with ice in mixing glass. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.


Below are several bars in San Francisco where you can drink this style of Martini in worthy historic surroundings.

56 Gold St
(between Balance St & Montgomery St)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 433-6300

Commentary: Classic styled restaurant in the historic Jackson Square neighborhood. Art Deco styling with columns, soaring atrium, commissioned art work, and nightly jazz or piano music. Try the steak tartare.

Elite Cafe
2049 Fillmore St
(between California St & Pine St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 346-8400

Commentary: Art Deco roadhouse styling, originally founded as the Lincoln Grill in 1928, and recently renovated back to classic style decor. Check out the unique light fixtures, and try the deviled eggs.

Big Four Restaurant
1075 California St
The Huntington Hotel
(between Cushman St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 771-1140

Commentary: The bar has rich wood finishing with dark hues and is in a building constructed in 1922. Good bar menu to accompany the martini. Try the chicken pot pie.

Maxfield's Pied Piper Bar
The Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 512-1111

Commentary: This bar arguably contains one of the finest bar murals of all time, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, painted in 1909 by Maxfield Parish. The mural alone is worth a visit. The decor is similar to the Big 4 Restaurant, with dark wood paneling.

Butterfly Bar
Hotel Majestic
1500 Sutter St
(between Gough St & Octavia St)
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 441-1100

Commentary: Though the Cafe Majestic recently closed, the adjacent Butterfly Bar is still open and provides light Victorian styling and unique actual butterfly displays. The Hotel Majestic, constructed in 1904, is one of the only wooden SF Hotels still in existence to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Bar Drake
Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell St
(between Sutter St & Post St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 395-8555

Commentary: Though the bar itself is a new creation, it is located within the lobby of the Sir Francis Drake hotel, constructed in 1928. Unlike the modern Clock Bar at the neighboring St. Francis Hotel, Bar Drake incorporates classic styling with marble and brass. A bar has existed in some form at this location for a number of years.

3200 16th St
(between Guerrero St & Spencer St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1633

Commentary: The current owners claim a saloon has existed on the site since 1858, making this likely the oldest drinking location in town. In 2003, the bar was renovated to a more classic styling with stained wood and brass.

House of Shields
39 New Montgomery Street
(between Jessie St & Stevenson St)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 975-8651

Commentary: Founded in 1908, this bar recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Drink a cocktail or listen to live music in subdued Edwardian surroundings that haven't changed much since construction.

83 Proof
83 1st St
(between Elim St & Mission St)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 296-8383

Commentary: This is the new kid on the block, though it is likely one of the most straight forward cocktail bars in San Francisco constructed in a classic style. There is no set cocktail list and the bartenders are highly knowledgeable. If you happen to stump the bartender, he may look up the recipe on his iPhone.

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