M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson, and Bertrand Russell’s famous martini question from On Denoting.

Martini Madness

The Post-Game Analysis: Tracing Our Champion Martini’s Path to Victory

Martini Madness

The Post-Game Analysis: Tracing Our Champion Martini’s Path to Victory
Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
April 10 2013 3:50 PM

Martini Madness


The tournament concludes with a highlight reel from M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson’s path to victory.

The Liquid Transmitter, the greatest martini in the world.

Troy Patterson/Slate

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

Martini Madness is proud to celebrate the championship victory of the Gibson of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and hopeful that its governing body will have recuperated from severe martini fatigue in time to sip a couple on her birthday anniversary, July 3. Those inclined to join us in the celebration will want to know that Fisher biographer Joan Reardon lists caviar, potato chips, and macadamia nuts among her subject’s favorite party snacks.

Let’s go to the highlight reel!


Round of 64
The Fisher dethroned The King. The opposing Gibson was the invention of Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE, who in his time wrote comic novels better than anyone since Evelyn Waugh—except when under the influence. “I personally find that after half a dozen large Dry Martinis and a proper lunch my customary skill with the commas and semicolons becomes a little eroded,” he once wrote.

I think Fisher would want us to punctuate this mention of Amis with a bit of his compound wisdom: “Most experts will tell you that the bloom begins to fade from a martini as soon as it is first mixed, which may be pure subjectivism, but, in any drinking context, subjectivism is very important.” Amis here echoes Bernard DeVoto: “You can no more keep a martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.” As it happens, according to Lowell Edmunds, DeVoto and Fisher carried on a correspondence “that is to the student of the Martini what the correspondence of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning or of John Quincy and Abigail Adams is to scholars in other fields. Alas, the Fisher-DeVoto correspondence has vanished.”

Round of 32
The grand dame defeated The Grey Lady. The competition was the work of Rosie Schaap, who told me that the idea for the sage-leaf garniture came to her while preparing a Thanksgiving dinner—and who topped that notion by suggesting a martini garnished with a sliver of cooked shallot.

Ms. Schaap was poetry in motion, chatting about Auden and about a martini variation digressing from a poem by Frank O’Hara about buying Strega in Midtown. “The Day Lady Died” might not mention a martini, she conceded, “but I feel like it’s implied.” She opened her laptop so that I could read aloud the relevant Hecht poem and she could find Jill McDonough’s “Breasts Like Martinis”—and inform future scholars that the “Josey” in the latter poem works at the top cocktail bar in Boston.


And with a click, the voice of John Ashbery welcomed us to the Hotel Lautréamont—“The saxophone wails, the martini glass is drained”—ringing a bell on the desk in my head: “Malkmus cites John Ashbery as an inspiration” -> “Pavement play twisted homage [to Brubeck] on ‘5 – 4 = Unity’ “ -> “the cat on sax on “Take Five” … once said that he “wanted to sound like a dry martini.” O that I could bend my tongue….

Sweet 16
This queenly Gibson ended the Cinderella story of the Martinez Redux. This contestant is the work of a reader whose name I’ll never know, unless his name his Frank. ‘Cause I got a tip in the comments that they’re making a drink like this at a hotel bar in Williamsburg, and I dropped by when I happened to be in that neighborhood, but the bar hadn’t yet opened for the evening, and its manager, whose name is Frank, wasn’t around.

The Martinez Redux uses Dolin Blanc—a sweet white vermouth about which many serious bartenders are excited. When I asked Damon Boelte to tell me what kind of martini he drinks himself, he described a drink that was one part Dolin Blanc, one part Dolin Dry, two parts Navy-strength gin, which is called Navy-strength gin because it is strong enough to chase off Barbary pirates. I don’t think you can accurately describe the bouquet of a Navy-strength martini without reference to 19th-century inhalational anesthetics.

Elite Eight
The drink Bacchus served Fisher at a hotel in Colorado Springs trounced the dirty martini Roosevelt served Stalin at a conference in Teheran.


Uncle Joe’s review of The FDR? “Cold on the stomach!

The underdog’s Gibson upsets the host’s Two at the Most too busy a beverage to compete. I’ll take the loss in stride, confident that my original recipe served well its purpose as a rhetorical device enabling a conversation about "Mrs. Parker"—a legendary posthumous persona of a historical literary figure.

I discussed the spurious Parker quatrain with Kevin Fitzpatrick, who is the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society and the author of a forthcoming cocktail book titled Under the Table. Fitzpatrick does not believe that Dorothy Parker wrote those lines, but he does believe that they’ve “outlasted everything she’s actually written” and, as such, demand consideration: “Do we know that she said it? No. Is it on cocktail napkins at the Algonquin? Yes.” This is the Wild West approach: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

I also discussed the spurious Parker quatrain with Stephan Shaw, creator of the Dorothy Parker Martini Glass. As we were settling into our conversation, I explained Martini Madness as an exercise in cocktail philosophy, and he made a reference to Bertrand Russell that went over my head. Then I looked into the body of discourse that engages Russell’s “On Denoting” (1905) and his Theory of Descriptions. And things started making sense. At some point, people in the field of analytic philosophy, perhaps led by Keith Donnellan, picked up the habit of thinking about philosophers and martinis to examine the nature of truth: “Can the sentence ‘The man over there drinking Martini is a philosopher’ be true even though nothing satisfies the definite description? Justify your response….”

The good old Gibson outlasted the au courant The Contemporary Standard. Cheers!

Should you interpret its victory to mean that I believe this to be the Greatest Martini Ever? Oh, heavens, no—the greatest martini is The Liquid Transmitter. The ombibulous Mr. Mencken called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet,” and I have drawn one along eternal lines, devising it to be able to drown a thirst on an incomparable summer’s day. I will fancy that the experience of drinking my Liquid Transmitter rhymes with the sound of the noun itself—the primal push and high-hat charm and teasing tiny chime of the enigmatic name martini—and I will the leave matter there and move on. The martini is served to its philosopher in a bottomless glass of symbolism. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a pipe is every now and then not a pipe; a martini, however, is always a martini. But what is a martini? Justify your response.