Shaken or Stirred – The art of ordering a Martini.

Posted on January 17, 2010


The Martini: Simple, elegant, classic. No other drink occupies such a prestigious place in our psyche, or has such iconic standing. From The Great Gatsby to Goldfinger, Cary Grant to Daniel Craig, it has stood the test of time and yet it seems so difficult to perfect. Shaken or stirred, twist or (olive on a) stick, just how do you get the best out of your ingredients and how do you order one without sounding like a nervous adolescent on his first date?

The truth is that, thanks to James Bond, ordering a Martini has become a minefield of embarrassment. You don’t want to sound like you’re trying to be a secret agent out to impress the ladies and if you do order your there’s always that underlying fear that when you order a Martini shaken not stirred, the barman will be sniggering discreetly.

All this is fair enough, but the sad fact is that, quite apart from the embarrassment of ordering, there are fewer bars these days where you can order a simple, classic cocktail. Often, if it’s not on the menu, they don’t know how to make it. Personally, I think if you can’t make a Martini, you’ve no place behind a bar. I have had some sublime Martini experiences and some laughable disasters. On more than one occasion I have had to explain to a barman not only what a Martini is, but how to make it. Once, when confronted with a look of total misapprehension, I even slipped behind the bar to make it myself. Another time, whilst on a mission for the perfect martin, I was merely shown a bottle of vermouth bearing the Martini & Rosso label. Fortunately, I was rewarded on the end of that quest with a truly exquisite Martini, mixed by a consummate professional.

So, after these various disappointing experiences, I decided that some of the responsibility must lie with the consumer and how they order their drink. You need to confront the fear of feeling foolish and, whilst you can’t always get a great barman, if you are concise and specific when ordering, then you can greatly reduce the odds of getting served a substandard drink.

However, before you do any of this, you have to establish just how you like your Martinis to be made. This knowledge is invaluable and quite simply some of the best time you will spend in the name of research. I’d recommend purchasing all the ingredients and tools you will need to make a Martini and then simply experiment. You’ll need, at the very least: A boston shaker; a Martini glass; gin and/or vodka; vermouth; ice; a long spoon and a garnish of choice, be it lemon or olives. Remember that the choice of gin, vodka and your vermouth will greatly effect the flavour of you final drink. Through various attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer a very dry gin martini, stirred, with a drop of bitters and garnished with a twist of lemon. However, this is entirely a point of preference. For instance, an accquaintance of mine prefers his Martinis slightly wetter with a garnish of Roquefort stuffed olives.

Once you’ve established your preference, you’ll need to be able to order it. After so many disappointing experiences, I’d  come to expect the barmen not to be able to make what I wanted, which I think was a mistake and only lead to further disasters. A Martini connoisseur I know, so distressed at the inability of Barmen to make his Martin to his preferred specifications, got their recipe printed onto business cards and simply passed it across the bar saying “exactly like that.” Personally, I think this goes a bit far, so I’ve narrowed ordering my Martinis down to a simple sentence made up of the following parts:

  • How you like it: “I’d like a dry/medium dry…”
  • What you’d like it made with: “gin/vodka Martini…”

Remember you can always specify your preferred brand. At this point you can also add bitters if you like.

  • The age old quandary: “shaken/stirred over ice…”
  • What you want it topped off with: “and garnished with a twist/olive…”

If it feels like it warrants it you can ask for it to be served in a chilled glass. This depends on where you are. Some places that’s as obvious as the glass itself, but remember a Martini is a drink you take your time with which needs to be cold and stay cold. A chilled glass will keep it at the desired temperature for longer.

So, for example, you might say:

“I’d like a dry, Tanqueray 10 Martini, stirred over ice and garnished with a twist of lemon. Thank you.”

Learn this phrase. Practice saying it so it comes out with authority and naturalistically. Remember to always speak clearly, evenly and don’t rush it. Always, always thank your server and a tip for those outside of the US: Leave a decent tip.

I’ve had hit and miss experiences, but this phrase will serve you well, even if the barman doesn’t. Recently, in New York’s Jane restaurant on West Houston Street, I was served a beautifully made Martini, well up to the standards of some of the better cocktail bars I’ve visited around the world, and I put it partly down to this sentence. Because not only does it tell them exactly what it is you want, but the authority with which you ask for it engenders a respectful approach.

So, now you should be able to mix up a Martini in the comfort of your own home as well as ordering one with confidence. Remember to drink responsibly. As James Thurber once said “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough.”