I was in Dallas for a teaching gig and staying at the Mansion on Turtle Creek (a luxury hotel I was enjoying courtesy of Central Markets Cooking Schools), when a friend from Chicago days came by for a visit. It was 4:00. We wandered into the hotel bar to see if we could get a coffee. One of the bartenders reluctantly offered to make a pot, but I could see it was an inconvenience. Besides it was 5:00 on the East coast. I ordered a glass of rose.
My friend and I were deep in catch-up mode, but eventually I noticed a photographer’s umbrella, lights from a flash, and bartenders Birk Baumgartner (below left) and Rocco Milano (below right) being photographed behind two very alluring cocktails. The Dallas Morning News was doing a piece—Top 10 Dallas Dining Trends. Number 2 on the list was Grown-Up Cocktails, and The Mansion bar was one of their picks.
I’m not especially bold, but I must have had just enough rose to ask them what they were going to do with those perfectly good cocktails. My assertiveness was rewarded.
The Old Fashioned was a perfectly fine cocktail, but I was already smitten with the Martinez. Ingredient list: Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, gomme syrup, with Italian imported Luxardo maraschino cherries for garnish. Compared with a straight-ahead gin or vodka martini (what the Martinez eventually morphed into) this cocktail was complex, alluring… pretty. Rocco and Birk sent me home with the formula and gave me their numbers.
When I got back to Connecticut I made some calls. Except for Old Tom Gin, the rest of the ingredients were mail order—all from different sources. I pulled out my credit card.
I picked up the slightly sweet Old Tom Gin from my local high-end wine shop. Per Rocco, gin wasn’t nearly as refined in the early years so sugar was added to hide the impurities. Today they sweeten good gin just to mimic the old style.
One by one the ingredients arrived: first the maraschino liqueur, then the Luxardo cherries, and finally the orange bitters (Rocco gave me permission to skip the gomme syrup which offers a thick velvety mouth feel).
Maggy and Andy were around when it was finally time to make the drink. I set the martini glasses in the freezer, filled the shaker with ice, ceremonially measured each ingredient, then shook and poured. We took them to the deck to enjoy the unseasonably warm late fall sunset.
But something wasn’t quite right. I had picked up the Martinez in a dark, swanky bar in a far-away exotic hotel. Now I was home. The drink tasted right, just wrong place. She was too classy to be with us jean-clad threesome in the late October woods. Her home was that swishy Dallas bar with Rocco and Birk telling her story.
Am I over the Martinez? No. The beloved ingredients are on my shelf for the rare high-heel-and-tie occasions when this vintage drink will be right at home. For now, I’m back with my old faithful. G&T.