Plenty of women have been crazy about gin. Dorothy Parker and the Queen Mother, for example, come immediately to mind. Dorothy, because of her famous quote about four martinis putting her “under the host.” The Queen Mum because of her possibly apocryphal instruction to her coterie of male attendants: “Would one you old queens bring this old queen a large gin and tonic?” And then of course, there is the ever-reliable Mae West: “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.”
But the subject today is men and gin, preferably in the form of a martini. Few things make a man more elegant than having one in hand. A case in point: the Slim Aarons photograph of Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Stewart at Romanoff’s on New Year’s Eve 1957. They are all in white tie, they are all cracking up, they all exude a masculinity and a coolness that is utterly breathtaking. Gary Cooper is holding what looks like a straight-up martini. It may well have been champagne, but I’m sticking with gin. Anyway, all four of those guys spent a lot of time in Chase’s, the much lamented Hollywood landmark that closed in 1995.
Chase’s was famous for its chili (Liz Taylor had several quarts flown to the set of “Cleopatra”) and a martini called “Pepe’s Flame of Love.” Created by Chasen’s bartender Pepe Ruiz, it was made with Stolichnaya vodka, sherry instead of vermouth, and orange peel rather than lemon. It was allegedly made for Dean Martin, another extra cool fellow, after he complained that he was bored with regular martinis. I can attest that it is excellent.
In today’s Fetch Bar column, our intrepid correspondent Brooks Reitz writes of the perfection that is on offer from the Connaught Hotel’s martini cart. I agree with Brooks that some of the finest martinis in the world are made in London hotel bars, usually by Italian bartenders. I am partial to the bar at Duke’s, where bar manager Alessandro Palazzi starts with a frozen glass and garnishes the finished product with either the peel of an Amalfi lemon or olives from Puglia. James Bond creator Ian Fleming drank at Duke’s, he is said to have written part of “Casino Royale” there. But you should ignore the awful Fleming 89, made with vodka infused with Tonka beans and chocolate bitters, in favor of Bond’s own favorite, a martini he named the Vesper after the novel’s gorgeous female lead, Vesper Lynd.
The Vesper is served, according to Bond’s instructions to the bar man in Casino Royale, in a deep champagne goblet,(which means that my boy Gary Cooper could indeed have been drinking one), and is made with “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. It is then shaken very well until it’s ice-cold and garnished with a large thin slice of lemon peel.”
My father is partial to Gordon’s, but in a plain old fairly wet martini garnished with an onion, which technically makes it a Gibson. He is also partial to other martini drinkers. So it was that when he spied Bill Blass in the bar at the Jockey Club in Washington, D.C. with a straight-up martini happily in hand, he introduced himself and they became fast friends. On the face of it, they were an unlikely pair: a world-famous dress designer and a businessman and politico from the Mississippi Delta. But Blass was at least as cool as Gary Cooper and Clarke Reed could easily have held his own with that bunch at Romanoff’s. Because they both knew/know how to hold their gin, in every sense of the word.