With a drink as nuanced as a cool, crisp martini, where you sip it makes all the difference. This straightforward cocktail usually involves little more than gin and dry vermouth. At these four spots, the martinis are exceptional and come with a sidecar of history.
Since 1989, this cozy favorite is the place to settle in for steaks and old-school martinis, whether at a white-clothed table or the long, curved bar. From the eight-item “martini list,” vodka lovers might try a classic Vesper (vodka, gin, Lillet). However, purists will opt for gin, served in an enormous V-shaped glass emblazoned with Gibson’s name and garnished with two speared olives.
Reportedly, this is where James Bond author Ian Fleming came up with 007’s famous catchphrase, “shaken, not stirred.” (The martinis at this upscale, clubby hotel bar are actually stirred.) Order from the bar cart, stocked with multiple gins that are chilled in the freezer to a viscous, almost syrupy consistency. These are mixed with dry vermouth and bitters, and adorned with an elegant lemon-peel twist.
This Old Hollywood haunt has mixed martinis since 1919, and has been famed as a literary hangout since the ’30s. Back then, motion-picture execs would peruse scripts, and contracts would be signed at the leather booths. Adorned in signature red jackets, the veteran barkeeps here have served Hollywood greats and hopefuls for decades. They serve up stiff martinis—gin, dry vermouth, and fat, green olives—and present the extra liquid in a small carafe set in ice.
New York City
The historic Knickerbocker Hotel reopened in Times Square in 2015, which brought back to glory a birthplace of the martini. According to one of the cocktail’s many origin stories, Knickerbocker bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia mixed up dry vermouth and gin for magnate John D. Rockefeller in 1912. Today, restaurateur Charlie Palmer’s slick new space on the fourth floor offers an excellent house martini. It’s made with Tanqueray 10 gin, dry and sweet vermouths, and a mix of orange and citrus bitters, served in a slender Nick and Nora glass.