The handful of establishments that made our 5 Best Martinis in L.A. list are not notable for their martini happy hours, Kim Kardashian-friendly accommodations or cute cocktail names. They simply make a fine martini. Vodka or gin, dealer's choice or your choice, depending on how you like to roll on a Saturday night.
Full disclosure: We started with a much broader list, including a basil-infused summer version by the beach, a seasonal pomegranate or some such holiday creation downtown. But we just couldn't bring ourselves to include them. These are martinis we are talking about.
That said, we did make one exception. We have an apple martini, though notably not a green apple version, on the list (yeah, yeah, we know). But we included the fresh apple version in the interest of future road-trip fun, when the only options for dinner are at an urban sprawl-fueled corporate chain (Outback, Bennigan's, we could go on), and we will inevitably find ourselves back in a sea of green apple martinis. The very same cocktails we remember from what seems like decades ago, the ones that never seem to change. These are the moments we can remember that one inspired version we had, back home in L.A., of what is perhaps our city's worst lingering contribution to general American cocktail ideology.
“An Actual Apple Martini.” Cana Rum Bar has chosen its menu words carefully here, and for good reason. And normally, we would move right on past any such green apple innuendos. Though we appreciate that the green apple martini is an L.A. native, we have yet to develop palate appreciation for cocktails the color of Jell-O. At Cana, your apple martini will arrive appropriately cider-hued and sporting two fresh apple-infused gins, Pommeau de Normandie (unfermented apple juice and Calvados), dry vermouth and a splash of Creole bitters. And as *fresh* apples are required here, this is not a year-round offering, as neon green sorts of beverages tend to be. You will find it in the fall, winter and early spring — or as long as those fresh apples and supplies of Pommeau de Normandie hold out. 714 W. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn. (213) 817-5321.
For those of us who are gin martini fans, we leave the “other” side of the best martini equation to our seasoned vodka martini aficionados. Those imbibers who, like Jonathan Gold, understand that a vodka martini is about the atmosphere as much as the vodka-to-vermouth-ratio. As Gold describes the Grill on the Alley's martini: “While we understand that a proper martini is at least one-third vermouth, maybe half, we know that it doesn't usually happen that way, at least outside the kinds of places where the bartenders wear sleeve garters and vests and exhibit the kind of attitude you might expect from a man who formulates his own bitters. A great vodka martini depends on the chill and the dilution, and on the steak you're planning to eat, and on the $5,000 suits worn by the other people in the room. Where else but the Grill on the Alley.” 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 276-0615.
Turn the page for #3, etc…
3. The Bazaar:
In any one else's hands, dirty martinis tend to be forgettable, a watered-down version of a proper martini. Enter José Andres. If you've had one of the chef's martinis, you know his riff on those free pours of olive brine into cheap gin is anything but excessive and cheap (literally). Here, a cocktail is set before you made of foamy olive brine “air” (essentially a garnish that replaces the cocktail's typical olive brine base) and a molecular gastronomy-induced spherified “liquid” olive that begs for a generous pour of really good gin. And as this is the Bazaar, finding a bottle of really good, and expensive, gin is never a problem. 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 246-5555.
2. The Dresden:
To answer the vermouth question, yes, there is more in the martinis at the Dresden than what you'll find at Musso & Frank. Whether that's a good thing depends on where you stand on the bone-dry issue. But there has never been anything pretentious or pink in these glasses. These are simply good martinis. And so we look at the order of our top two picks as more of a personal vermouth dividing line than one of quality, more a question of where you prefer to do your sipping, and with whom. In the lounge at the Dresden, with Marty and Elayne crooning as the musical backdrop, it's hard to get into any amount of vermouth criticism. 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323)665-4294.
Turn the page for our #1 pick…
Like silent films, old-school in the martini realm does not mean boring. Nor is there much to be said of the Musso & Frank dry martini that hasn't been said already. Yes, they know how to make a classic Old Hollywood sipper — even after longtime barman Manny Felix retired after 40 years of infamous red-jacket stirring. And a martini here is best when “taken” as part of the entire steak and jellied consummé experience. Because with a drink as (one can hope) simple as a martini, you want — need — to taste it in its Hollywood heyday. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323)467-7788.
Daina Beth Solomon contributed to this report.
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