…the Martini. And that’s where my obsession with cocktails originally began.
Missing school one afternoon to watch The Thin Man, I was transfixed by the film’s sophistication, glamour and most of all by its reckless drinking. The debonair William Powell and Myrna Loy solve a murder in between Martini-drinking bouts and trading witticisms, ably assisted by Skippy the fox terrier (my all time favourite stalwart of screwball comedy). Never again will dipsomania seem so aspirational.
Today, a residual aura of glamour clings to the Martini in my mind, undiminished by its bastard incarnations in the Bond franchise or by the fact I rarely sit satin-clad in an art deco gem of a bar while a white tuxedo-ed impresario assiduously stirs away. Actually, I did once come close to this fantasy when ordering my pre-dinner tipple of choice at J.Sheekey – not only was it perfect in strength and temperature but it was served in a delicate, upright glass. I recognised it at once as the style used in The Thin Man and for a bubble of a moment felt as sophisticated and glamorous as Myrna herself.
There are of course dissenters. Gin-haters. People who don’t actually like the taste of alcohol. Once a bartender told me that he, and many others he knew, sneered at customers who ordered this drink, as unimaginative, unsubtle and faux-sophisticated. I disagree. Not only is the Martini the perfect litmus test when trying out a new bar (if they get that right I’ll order a second drink), but there simply are occasions when nothing but its icy, alcoholic purity will do.
I was lucky enough to go to Kenya last year to write a feature on voluntourism. Part of the trip was a safari in the Masai Mara which meant a multiple-drop flight in a 12-seater light aircraft. On our second take off the engine failed and take-off was aborted, resulting in a totalled plane, a few bruises and some very shaky legs. On reaching the nearby, and fortuitously luxurious, camp, my first request was for a gin Martini, extra dry (they couldn’t supply the olive but under the circumstances I forgave them). By the time I was on my second drink, the rest of the party had followed my lead.
A couple of hours later the vote was unanimous. If you ever find yourself thoroughly shaken or stirred – not necessarily by a plane crash – give the brandy a miss and order a Martini.