There was a time when ordering a martini in Los Angeles went hand in hand with drawing up a living will — unless you were drinking in places like the late, lamented Jimmy’s or Nickodell’s, you never knew what was going to come your way. It could be served in a wineglass with ice, sweet vermouth might be poured instead of dry or, more fatally, a clueless bartender might even reverse the cocktail’s gin-to-vermouth ratio. Once an essential survival skill of Hollywood social life, martini-mixing had, by the 1980s, become a forgotten art, an omission on par with the loss of Roman concrete-making techniques during the Dark Ages. The martini renaissance of the 1990s reversed the trend. Gone are the bartending crimes of yore, replaced by malt-shop-like menus of flavored martinis, all poured with cool precision by a dedicated fraternity of servers.
Musso&FrankGrillIf the holy smoke from the Vatican had wafted Cardinal Carlo Martini’s way, this is where Pope Martini would have stayed when not in Rome. “Old school” doesn’t begin to describe the sacramental care with which bartenders Manny, Mario and Ruben tend their drinks, which are accompanied with tiny runoff carafes. Check in any afternoon or night when Manny Aguirre is on duty. While accommodating drinkers who request evidence of vermouth, he normally pours bone-dry drinks according to his own techniques. (Hint: Keep your eye on the rocks.) 6667HollywoodBlvd.(323)467-7788.
Downside:Closed Sundays and Mondays.
SavingGrace:Musso’s still gives out restaurant matchbooks.
TheSmokeHouseYou sense the, uh, maturityof this landmark’s clientele by the portable wheelchair plank that often leads from the lobby into the restaurant. Known for its storied Hollywood past (Warner Bros. sits across the street) and all-you-can-drink Sunday champagne brunches, the Smoke House endures as a sanctuary of cuff links, banquettes and martinis in these troubled times. The only way its gin or vodka martinis could get any drier is if they served them in a bucket of sand. Mercifully, they come in the traditional chalice with a reservoir carafe nestled in a bowl of shaved ice. 4420LakesideDrive,Burbank.(818)845-3733.
TheDresdenRoomForget Swingers,Marty and Elaine, and all the hip poses that put this place on the map of cool. The Dresden’s gin or vodka martinis are not merely creamy classics, but honestmartinis — by adding measurable amounts of vermouth without regrets or apology, the room’s bartenders bravely buck the trend of making drier and drier martinis. Drop in during midweek ebb tide, early in the evening when there’s room at the bar. This is the time to enjoy an unpretentious drink without a haircut in sight, as you listen to the bartender explain Passover to a waitress and watch the Dodgers on a slightly fuzzy TV. 1760N.VermontAve.,LosFeliz.(323)665-4294.
Downside:The creeping Fred 62 look of Vermont Ave.
SavingGrace:Skylight Books is 200 feet away.
Lola’sOne of the first booze oases to boast a martini menu, Lola’s brazenly claims to have introduced the apple martini. For traditionalists, the “appletini” (like other martini hybrids) is a somewhat alien and acquired taste — sort of like eating Apple Jacks cereal with vodka instead of milk. Lola’s visual presentation is austere but forceful: large glass with clear appletini and lily-pad slice of green apple floating on a pond of Ketel One. 945N.FairfaxAve.,WestHollywood.(213)736-5652.
Downside:If you drink in the lounge, your cocktail may arrive barely above room temperature and well ahead of the appetizer you ordered.
SavingGrace:$5 happy hour, hotties everywhere.
PinotHollywoodIf you must order an apple martini from a cute menu, do it at this surprisingly no-attitude restaurant built on the bones of the legendary Columbia Bar and Grill. (Columbia studio mogul Harry Cohn is buried down the street.) Even though they come dyed green and with a cherry,for Chrissake, Pinot’s apple martinis bear tiny shreds of ice and taste like autumn in New York. 1448N.GowerSt.(323)461-8800.
Downside:Street parking goes fast.
SavingGrace:$5 well martinis served during a rather elastic happy hour.
LesFrèresTaixQuite a surprise — some solid martini-mixing going on here in the middle of all the French onion soup. Martini sampling can be a hit-and-miss experience though, with smoother concoctions being served up by the weekend bartenders who mix with a noticeable visual flair. 1911SunsetBlvd.,EchoPark.(213)484-1265.
Downside:Drinks sometimes seem to be made without vermouth, leading to that jar-of-vodka buzz.
SavingGrace:Great waitress banter at the end of the bar.