Death of the Martini? Part 2 - The Dirty Little Secret

Some things in life are best the first time.

In March of 1997, I was in San Francisco visiting a restaurant/bar that some friends had been raving about named “Bruno's”, a monument to the classic live crooner venue.

My companion and I ordered Martinis, Bombay Sapphire to be exact; a simple and clear request with (seemingly) little that could be misinterpreted. It is precisely because of this implied simplicity that a follow-up question from the female bartender was so puzzling.

“Would you like those dirty?”

She was not unattractive, mind you, and I must admit my mind wandered a bit with the potential for this inquiry. Given the scenario, I had to conclude that I'd misunderstood her. The puzzled look on our faces lead her to prompt, “Ah, you've never had a dirty Martini, have you...” We shook our heads.

“I think you'll like this,” she responded.

For those of you that claim to be fans of “Dirty Martinis”, let me assure you that what comes next is probably not what you're expecting. She placed two olives and a bit of ice in a pint glass, and beat the hell out of them with a muddler. She then added the gin, a splash of vermouth, shook it, and strained it into two glasses. Sure enough, they looked like dirty dishwater.

I sat in awe. Only once in my later Martini-sipping history would I be so enthralled with such a concept.* The flavor of olives were no longer peripheral to the Martini, they were an integral part of it. I was hooked. This was, as far as I knew, the de facto standard method of making a “dirty Martini”.
She was releasing olive oil and juice into the Martini. Brilliant.

Now comes the bad news. I have since discovered exceedingly few bartenders who understand this approach. In fact, I can only recall two; one was at Bruno’s, the other was a bartender at the hotel Sagamore in Miami Beach. That leaves about 2,600 miles in between of bartenders doing something different. In fact, they do what I consider unthinkable; put olive brine in the Martini.

I can't believe it's fallen to me to explain this, but brining liquid isn't meant to be ingested. If you brine your turkey for Thanksgiving, you don't then pour the liquid into a punchbowl for all to enjoy nor are you likely to, at your grandmother's funeral, all do a shot of the embalming fluid that preserves her through the send-off.

A young woman I sat next to once quipped, “Oh, I love them made with olive juice”. I had to explain to her that the "juice" didn't come out of the olive. Quite the opposite. (We'll do away with the osmosis exchange that takes place in brining for this blog entry.)

“You like them that way? Okay then, let's do a shot of ‘olive juice’ you love so much”, I challenged.

Eewww, I wouldn't drink it by itself”, she clarified.

“If you won't drink it by itself, why in the world are you drinking it mixed with vodka?”

She glanced back at her Martini and, as far as I know, is still pondering the answer to that question. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who can answer it.

* At Veritas in New York city, I requested a Martini, but was in the mood for a more exotic garnish. Exceedingly rare, but brilliantly appropriate, is a caper berry (the fruit from the same plant that gives us pickled budding flower we call capers.) But I also kinda wanted olives.

Tim, the maître 'd, posed another brilliant idea - “How about olives stuffed with capers?”

My jaw hit the bar. I didn't know if it would work, or if it was even possible, but my stunned silence at the idea told him all he needed to know.

Minutes later, he was standing behind the bar, in a suit and tie, hand-stuffing capers into olives for me. It was a very good day.


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