Ian Fleming’s Vesper, Sophie Dahl’s dirty martini, and the Standard Hotel’s standard martini.

Martini Madness

The Sweet 16 Commences, With Appearances by Sophie Dahl, Ian Fleming, and a Terry Gross Lookalike

Martini Madness

The Sweet 16 Commences, With Appearances by Sophie Dahl, Ian Fleming, and a Terry Gross Lookalike
Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
April 7 2013 3:14 PM

Martini Madness


Robert Bork’s bad restaurant manners pale in comparison to Ian Fleming’s bad pickup lines.

Is Sophie Dahl's dirty martini too dirty?

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

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

Borked Up (3) vs. The Martinez (10)
In his 2005 letter to the Wall Street Journal—a brief manifesto he once impishly called, to the palpable discomfort of a C-SPAN host, "crucial to Western Civilization"—Robert Bork teased cocktail writer Eric Felten for his use of the term "original intent": "What counts in mixology is the 'original understanding' of the martini’s essence by those who first consumed it." The progress of the Borked Up ends here, most fittingly, with its defeat by the Martinez, the original martini whose existence he repeatedly failed to acknowledge. As Dwight Garner once put it on Twitter, "Robert Bork claimed the dry martini for conservatism ... #veto."

Plus, Bork drinking buddy Roger Kimball has, at my instigation, informed the world of the time “Bob was presented with a drink containing two olives”: “He sent it back. ‘If I had wanted a salad,’ he told the waiter, ‘I would have ordered one.’ ” Though it was perfectly acceptable for Bork to send the drink back, I must reprimand him for his rudeness to the server—and caution you not to make too many wisecracks in the direction of people who handle your food.


The Martinez advances to the Elite Eight in the Midwest Regional.

M.F.K. Fisher's Gibson (9) vs. Martinez Redux (13)
The Martinez Redux is sweet, and I hope to see her again, but this Gibson, which I first tried with silky Plymouth and two barspoons of thoroughly ambrosial vermouth-based onion brine, is sweet and savory, achieving smooth succulence and earning high honors.

Plus, I echo one passionate opinion recorded at the intern tasting: “Can’t stop snacking!

M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson advances to the Elite Eight in the West Regional.


The FDR (3) vs. the Martini de Luxe (7)
The de Luxe recipe is in some respects delovely, but it yields results too dry for my taste. This is a common dynamic with Embury: His writing and reasoning are very strong—and so are the cocktails, too much so. (For instance, his Sidecar is 8:2:1—eights parts brandy, 2 parts Cointreau, 1 part lemon juice. Man, am I dying for a Sidecar. Three months on the martini beat have left me psyched to get Sidecars back in rotation.)

Plus, Embury's sherry variation is dullsville.

The FDR advances to the Elite Eight in the West Regional.

The Contemporary Standard (2) vs. The BFG (6)
The editrix went for drinks at the Standard, which is one of the few acceptable places to enjoy oneself in the designer hellhole that is the Meatpacking District. She made some notes and sent them to me. I contrived two or three inappropriate Michael Fassbender jokes and, stifling these, present those notes to you.


I had never been to the bar at the Standard Hotel before Tuesday night. I had to ask the concierge for directions to the elevator, which I rode to the 18th floor, unprepared for the panoramic views and the superlatively opulent vibe.

The bar matched my imaginings of the Mad Men era, or the dot-com boom. The men wore suits, the women mini-dresses; I’d put the median age gap between those two groups at 17.5 years. At the table next to ours, a group of trim, handsome businessmen spoke in spirited Russian. In a corner on the north side of the bar, a blues singer with bright red lips and a slinky white dress fronted a small band. The musicians played at a perfect volume—exactly not-too-loud.

First I told my server (who was a dead ringer for Mila Kunis) to bring me a gin martini in whatever style the bartender preferred. It was delicious and came with a perfectly coiled lemon twist.

After I'd finished it, I felt fortified, and I approached the bar to interrogate one of the three bartenders about his methods. He was a tallish white man wearing a white jacket with brass buttons; his brown hair was pulled back in a tight, folded-under ponytail. His face was angular, his eyes dark blue, and his manners very polite.


I asked him the formula for his house martini; he told me it was 2½ ounces Bombay Original Dry and ½ ounce Dolin vermouth. This he pronounced "DOH-lin," rather than the French "doh-LANH." Perhaps that's normal among Americans; I don't know, not being a vermouth expert. I asked him to make me the same, only with a few dashes of citrus-y bitters—i.e., the Contemporary Standard. He obliged, stirring the ingredients together in a frosted glass, and then painstakingly winding a long, thick lemon twist around his slim forefinger. I inquired about his bitters of choice; he said he used a house blend containing Regan's orange bitters.

I gratefully handed him my debit card and tried to pretend I fit in with the stylish aristocrats seated next to me while he was swiping it. My heart leapt as I caught a glimpse of Terry Gross sitting 10 feet away, but upon further discreet inspection, she was only a Terry Gross lookalike.

My heart sank quickly as I inspected the bill. The Contemporary Standard martini cost $24.78; I tipped $4.22, which I later feared was not enough. I liked the Contemporary Standard even better than the martini without bitters—that smoldering hint of orange accomplished quite a bit. Then again, I was somewhat tipsy and vertiginous by the time I started in on it.

I am glad to see that the editrix quit after two, lest she suffer the experience described in a Roald Dahl story titled “The Last Act”: "Give her a third martini and within seconds her body would become completely weightless and she would go floating around the room like a wisp of hydrogen gas."


Dahl comes to mind because the Contemporary Standard is matched against the BFG, my name for a dirty-martini recipe written by his granddaughter. It is the dirtiest martini in the bracket, and at this point, I think that makes it too dirty for the bracket. Postulating that a martini made with more olive brine than vermouth is no longer a martini, I send the BFG on its saline way.

Plus, frankly, I put the BFG in here to construct a pretense to try to go drinking with Sophie Dahl, who’s a fun interview. But I never even pulled it together to email her rep. And now I see that there has been what Winchell would call a blessed event: She’s probably nursing anyway. Happily, the swank of the night at the Standard—a Terry Gross lookalike!—satisfies my desire to get some glamour in this series.

The Contemporary Standard advances to the Elite Eight in the South Regional.

The Vesper (2) vs. The Hoffman House (11)
Here we encounter a categorical philosophical problem. The Vesper isn't just another martini variation. It's the world's best-respected martini variation. Being a variation on the martini—not a legitimate martini—is central to its identity, and if it were to advance against the crisp and fragrant and venerable Hoffman House, then this martini tournament would lose all its hard-fought credibility.


Plus, I gotta wonder about Ian Fleming's pickup technique and whether it has any relationship to my pal Denise’s observation that the Vesper inspired not love but lust: Fleming “would ask a woman, often on first meeting, to go to bed with him. If she declined, he would simply move on, unashamed and unresentful.”

The Hoffman House advances to the Elite Eight in the East Regional.