In the never-ending quest to encourage the enthusiastic consumption of spirits, another National "Something" Day is upon us. Today, June 19, is officially National Martini Day, which in the grand scheme of "National" whatevers is as fine an excuse to have a drink as any.
The noted satirist H. L. Mencken once remarked that the martini is "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet." It's not often that cocktails are equated with poetry, but a truly fine drink can indeed inspire fanciful musings. And there's nothing more poetic in the cocktail lexicon than the chimerical combination of gin and vermouth that produces the martini and its variations.
It's quite possible that no other drink has been riffed on as much as the martini, that no other drink has caused so much bibulous debate -- about its origins, its measurements and especially its garnishes. So instead of arguing semantics, and instead of the usual top five roundup, let's celebrate the diversity of the martini and its evolution.
5. 1886: The Martinez
The history books tend to agree that the Martinez, with its Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth, is the precursor to the martini. Vastly different in flavor, this is most definitely not a "dry" martini, but you can sip it confidently knowing that you're drinking history. And, considering that the Martinez is mentioned in O. H. Byron's Modern Bartender's Guide from 1884, you will find a fitting locale to imbibe at the 1886 Bar in the Raymond Restaurant, formerly the caretaker's cottage of the once glorious, now defunct Raymond Hotel (built, appropriately, in 1886). 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena; (626) 441-3136.
4. The Tasting Kitchen: The Gibson
Some folks say that olives simply muddy the waters in a fine martini. After all, there's a reason that they call dirty martinis "dirty," thanks to the olive brine that flavors and clouds up the pristine waters of the drink. If you're on the fence about an olive or a twist, consider a Gibson, which is truly nothing more than a martini with an onion in it. At the Tasting Kitchen, Tyler Loughlin, who makes all the pickled vegetables for the restaurant's Bloody Marys, also pickles the onions for the Gibson. 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 392-6644.