By Suzanne Meyers
It’s true – the rumor mill, the grapevine and the British tabloids are correct (and aren’t they all controlled by Murdoch anyway?) – James Bond no longer orders his usual tipple, a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. No, this time around in the new film Skyfall, he’s wrapping his suave lips around a bottle of Heineken.
A beer for the world’s greatest, most debonair spy? How can it be? Apparently it revolves around the notion of product placement and the 28 million pounds sterling injected into the film’s production. Still, you can’t blame Bond. Were he a New Yorker, he’d be too hard-pressed to even find a real martini, making the choice of beer all the more obvious. I can attest to this, being a woman (of a certain age, but classic in my own right, thank you) known to enjoy the time-honored mix of spirit and aromatic wine; it’s not out there. No, what’s out there is a big bucket of vodka. (Or gin, if you’re a traditionalist. If you are, you’re going to be equally unhappy.)
Case in point. I arrange to meet a man at a certain trendy hotel bar located near a quaint private park in downtown Manhattan. I name my poison and turn my attention to my companion for the evening. My drink is served and moments later, I take my first sip. No vermouth. Not even a drop. He didn’t even wave the bottle over the glass. The addition of vermouth to a martini is what renders what would be a slap in the face into a soft caress on the cheek. Inquiries are made to the young man behind the bar about the missing fortified wine. His reply, “Of course there’s no vermouth in it. You asked for a martini.” This was served with a look that suggested “You imbecile, you.” Were this the only occurrence of this conversation I would not remark on it. In many establishments, vermouth, that special blend of botanicals and roots infused in white wine which makes a martini a martini, is not even stocked behind the bar.
I’m far from belonging to the generation which tossed back that particular potable like today’s Cosmopolitans or Mojitos. But having worked a large part of my adult life as a bartender, I do know the recipe, and I realize that most people enjoy their vodka martinis on the dry side. But what currently passes for that beverage in Gotham is a serving of chilled vodka in a container that could satisfy a family of five. The vial of Dorothy Parker’s era which provided about 2 ounces of liquid has turned into the fat urn of today in which one might actually bathe a newborn child. In other words, 6 to 9 ounces of alcohol. Given my petite frame and the day’s light lunch, by the time I consumed the enormous offering provided by the aforementioned barkeep, I was spinning.
I negotiate the vermouth issue by ordering with an emphasis on the presence of Neuilly Prat or Martini & Rossi in my refreshment. I hate doing this because there is nothing that bartenders like less than a customer telling them how to do their job. Even so, the size of my drink is left to the establishment. I suppose it justifies paying seventeen dollars when one is served the equivalent of eight shots of booze. Historically, the before-dinner cocktail was intended to light fire to the appetite, not prevent one from being able to read the menu. Still, I could be wrong. In the freewheeling days of Prohibition when New York was lousy with speakeasies, Nora Charles strode into a joint to find her husband, Nick, involved in an in-depth session of wet libations. Telling her he’s about to embark on his sixth martini, she calls over the waiter and says “All right. Will you bring me five more martinis, Leo? And line them right up here.”
The only problem is, that happened one night in the 1934 movie, The Thin Man. Conversely, these days the New York State Liquor Authority does not allow for unlimited beverages to be ordered in a bar. I can only conclude that the super sized glassware of today makes up for this impingement on our drinking rights. So enjoy those monster martinis with a heavyweight sirloin. And don’t forget to beg a few drops vermouth.
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