For a drink with only two ingredients, the martini inspires a disproportional level of disagreement.
Its exact origins still a matter of dispute, the beloved combination of dry vermouth and clear liquor tends to attract purists who insist fiercely on their own particular dogma: gin over vodka; a lemon twist instead of olives; stirred, not shaken; don't you dare go overboard on the vermouth.
But bartenders are beginning to push back against such rigid ideas about the 20th-century classic. “My philosophy is, there’s too many rules,” said Alessandro Palazzi, bar manager at Dukes, the tony London mecca that’s said to be where author Ian Fleming devised James Bond’s martini order. Today, a section on the Dukes menu advises customers not to get caught up in custom and simply order a version that excites their taste buds.
One variation in particular has been stealing the spotlight: the 50/50. It’s a refreshing, easy-drinking take that calls for equal parts gin and dry vermouth instead of the two-parts-to-one specifications of the traditional recipe. For vermouth detractors—such as Winston Churchill, who once said that all the vermouth his martini needed was a bow in the direction of France, where much of the product is made—this formula might seem like apostasy.
Less Alcohol Isn't BadModern drinkers, however, are trending toward lower-alcohol cocktails and showing renewed interest in fortified wines like vermouth. Whereas drier martini versions have that pronounced boozy burn, the “wetter” 50/50 conceals its ABV beneath a rich, flavorful botanical profile that evokes rose petal, dried herbs, and citrus. The higher proportion of vermouth gives it a lush texture—and a clearer head in the morning.
The 50/50 is how Palazzi himself often prefers it. “It’s a beautiful drink,” he said, the closest he comes to an endorsement. His lone rule? Savor the flavors of your martini in the same way you would a glass of wine, no matter your recipe preference. “You should take your time with it,” he said.
The 50/50 Martini Recipe 1.5 oz. gin (your preference, though philistines can also use vodka)1.5 oz. dry vermouth (we recommend Dolin Dry)1 lemonCombine in a mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe or martini glass, serve up with a lemon twist.Three Other Martinis to Try in London
Where: The Connaught BarWhat to order: Gibson
If you’re in the mood to seal the deal the old-fashioned way, go to this gilded Mayfair hideaway that has been designed like a glamorous 1920s lounge. As at Dukes, a white-gloved attendant mixes martinis tableside over a bar cart, or you can order from famed master bartender Agostino Perrone at the beautiful marble bar. Try a classic Gibson—Cary Grant’s order from North By Northwest—with Beefeater gin and a delectable cocktail onion, which lends the drink a savory character.
Where: The American Bar at the Savoy
What to order: Martinez
Said to be the oldest cocktail bar in London (it opened in 1893), this legendary Strand watering hole was where Harry Craddock held court and compiled his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, still a standard reference for cocktail bartenders today. Frank Sinatra, who sipped and sang there, was a regular. Given the historical legacy, it’s a fitting place to order a Martinez, which is widely believed to be the grandfather of the martini: The mix of gin, sweet vermouth, and maraschino liqueur harkens back to a time when palates were accustomed to less-bitter drinks.
Where: The Bar With No Name at 69 Colebrooke RowWhat to order: “Dirty” Martini
This dark, underground bar from London’s mad cocktail scientist Tony Conigliaro serves up some of the most inventive spins on canon classics—with none of the attitude of U.S. cocktail dens. For his twist on the dirty martini, the bar staff replaces the briny flavour profile of olive juice with the bright, vegetal notes of caper berries, infused in Beefeater gin and garnished with a caper leaf. Enjoy as a pianist tickles the ivories in the background.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland