“there Is Something About A Martini”


The facts are these. The marini was probably invented in the decade following the end of the Civil War, because it was popular enough by the 1880s to begin appearing in bartender’s manuals. Its first-known recipe is O. H. Byron’s, in The Modern Bartender’s Guide (New York, 1884), in which a Martinez is described as a Manhattan made with gin instead of whiskey. Jerry Thomas, whose groundbreaking manual of 1862 contains no recipe, lists a Martinez in his 1887 second edition. In 1888 Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style is the first to spell it Martini . By the 1890s it is a rare guide that does not include a recipe, and martini edges out martinez by the turn of the century.

These early cocktails, like most mixed drinks served over the great mahogany bars of America’s fancy saloons, were achingly sweet. Here’s Harry Johnson’s recipe:

Use a large bar glass. Fill the glass up with ice; 2 or 3 dashes Gum Syrup; 2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; 1 dash of Curaçao; 1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin; 1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth. Stir up well with a spoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve.

Old Tom was a sweetened gin, the intended vermouth is the sweet Italian kind, and gum syrup is sugar syrup. It’s a long way from the modern dry martini, but a decisive step had been taken: the mixture of gin and vermouth.

Vermouth, whose name derives from the German for wormwood, a key ingredient, was being made in Italy in the late Renaissance. But its history in the United States dates from only the middle nineteenth century. The first shipment of French vermouth reached New Orleans in 1851, and Martini & Rossi began exporting its sweet rosso in the 1860s. By the 1870s creative bartenders were experimenting with both kinds. In 1874, for example, at a banquet celebrating Gov. William J. Tilden’s electoral victory at New York’s Manhattan Club, a new drink called the Manhattan was invented by adding sweet Italian vermouth to the rye, bitters, curaçao, and syrup of the traditional whiskey cocktail. On the same principle, adding sweet vermouth to the traditional gin cocktail created the prototype of the modern martini. Maraschino cherry optional.


As the century wore on, a taste for (relative) dryness developed. First the gum syrup disappeared. As William T. (“Cocktail”) Boothby put it in Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender (San Francisco, 1891), “This popular appetizer is made without sweetening of any description, as the Old Tom Cordial gin and Italian vermouth of which it is composed are both sweet enough.” By 1896 the next crucial unsweetening step had been taken. That year Thomas Stuart’s Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them presented, in “New and Up-to-Date Drinks,” the Marguerite: 1 dash orange bitters, 2/3 Plymouth gin, 1/3 French vermouth. Plymouth gin, unlike Old Tom, is a dry, unsweetened London gin, and French vermouth is the dry pale yellow kind. A similar recipe was published a few years later as the Puritan, perhaps with reference to its ascetic dryness. This would remain the standard recipe well into the 1930s.

Marguerite and Puritan never caught on; it was easier to remember an established name and order a “ dry Martini.” As the new century began, more and more people did. In the first decade, annual sales of Noilly Prat dry vermouth tripled from twenty-five thousand to seventy-five thousand cases.

The cocktail’s role in American life was changing, in ways that encouraged the martini—s new dryness. In the nineteenth century cocktails were considered a morning “eye opener” or at least an any-time-of-day drink. William Terrington, in Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks (1869), wrote, “Cocktails are compounds very much used by ‘early birds’ to fortify the inner man”; a “Kentucky breakfast” was “three cocktails and a chaw of terbacker.” But cocktails were coming up in the world, and a new institution evolved to accommodate them. Between the turn of the century and World War I, America’s grand hotels took their established English custom of five o’clock tea and transformed it into the five o’clock cocktail hour. (Early cocktail shakers were modeled on teapots, and cocktail hours were called teas well into the 1930s.) What was desired now was a pre-dinner appetite stimulant, not a dessertlike confection, and the dry martini fit the bill.