LIANE HANSEN, host:
The martini cocktail, long the embodiment of style and sophistication, is popular again. Today, however, it's often served with a unique twist. WEEKEND EDITIONs food commentator Bonny Wolf is a little shaken, but not stirred.
BONNY WOLF: Can you imagine James Bond asking for a chocolate butterscotch martini, or an apple martini, lemon drop martini or prickly pear martini? Unlikely for the suave superspy.
Putting a drink in a long-stemmed V-shaped glass does not make it a martini. A martini is this: gin and dry vermouth. And maybe an olive or two. Or a twist of lemon peel. It is ice cold and crystal clear, not green or pink. The martini is an icon, what writer H.L. Mencken called the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.
A martini recipe appears as early as 1882 in a bartender's manual, although in addition to gin and vermouth, it calls for sweet syrup. Over the years, the martini got drier and drier. Martinis were popular in Prohibition speakeasies, probably because it was easier to make gin in a bathtub than whisky.
Ever after, the martini was the height of urbanity. American writer Bernard DeVoto wrote: the martini is a city dweller, a metropolitan. It is not to be drunk beside a mountain stream or anywhere else in the wilds.
Think Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, art deco furnishings and wood-paneled bars. A martini defined cool and modern. 1950s jazz saxophonist Paul Desmond said he wanted the sound of a dry martini. Just listen to his composition "Take Five."
From roughly the same era, the TV show "Mad Men" is careful with period details, so many of the characters drink martinis at bars, cocktail parties or when they get off the train from Manhattan. "Mad Men" also shows the downside of the three-martini lunch style: car crashes, failed marriages, lost jobs.
The martini's star faded in the late 1960s and '70s with opposition to expense account dining rising, health food stores gaining on liquor stores and the popularity of other mind-altering substances.
Classic cocktails made a comeback in the 1980s, and things began to run amok. Frou-frou-tinis featuring flavored vodka, fruit purees, even bacon bits have become common in raucous bars with loud music. All wrong for the drink that writer E.B. White called the elixir of quietude.
HANSEN: Food commentator Bonny Wolf.
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