The Martini inhabits many forms. Its commonly understood ratio, post-Prohibition, is 1 part dry vermouth to 3 parts gin—but if you prefer vodka, that works, too. You can have it served with an olive or a lemon twist. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who liked his a bit dirty, according to Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail, famously held one up at the White House when Prohibition ended in 1933. At any mediocre suburban restaurant, there’s likely a list of a dozen fruity variations to tempt you (I know I’ve ordered a Flirtini and a Peep-tini in different moments of regretful silliness)—a holdover from when vodka reigned as the spirit supreme.
In these times of craft mezcal and small-batch moonshine, the Martini still retains a shine. Here, three versions at three price points that point to different periods in cocktail history.
At Australian bartender Naren Young’s Dante, they’ve recently launched the $.99 Martini during the work week from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. While they’re limiting them to one per person, it’s still quite an exciting proposition. You can choose between Plymouth Gin or Absolut Vodka, as well as a lemon knot or caperberry garnish. The bar, which has been in continuous operation for over 100 years, is serving them in homage to the price you would’ve been able to find in 1915. When you’ve taken your final sip and noshed on that caperberry, move on to the superb Negroni Sessions.
The Porn Star Martini was developed at legendary London bar LAB by Douglas Ankrah in the late 1990s (there it was served with a chilled shot of Champagne) and still has a place on many menus. But it’s at Giuseppe Gonzalez’s Lower East Side bar, where he’s also resurrected the Espresso Martini, that it feels most fun to drink. On the menu under “Intractable & Unapologetic,” its combination of Reyka Vodka, passion fruit, lime and vanilla might scream “NYU freshman,” but its appeal is wide and the price is right: “It’s 15 dollars. All cocktails are that price,” Gonzalez reminded me over email. “BOOM!”
Downstairs at The Happiest Hour in the West Village, there’s Slowly Shirley. The bar has a speakeasy vibe and the bartenders in suspenders to take it over the top, but its quiet nature and dim light make it perfect for dates. And if you really want to impress someone, maybe order the $30 F.A.F. (that’s Fancy As Fuck) Martini. This drink actually has a tinge of gold from the Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve small-batch gin it’s made with—and the result is delicious. The gin was introduced in 2013 and bottles go for around $70, making this a Martini that could only be served in the current craft cocktail age.