Where to Drink Martinis Around the Globe
Harry's Bar, Paris
“A martini deserves an elegant room and an unhurried atmosphere,” says Jake Burger of Portobello Road Gin, which is why he’s partial to Harry’s Bar in Paris, even if it serves more tourists than locals. “There is something magical about the place; you can feel the history. The bartenders are all perfectly adept, and have that Parisian mixture of politeness and indifference. Plus the hot dogs are great, and everyone knows hot dogs and martinis were born for each other.” His recommendation for a perfect martini experience: “Sit there and enjoy the afternoon then stagger out. I love that place.”
The Cocktail Bar at the Connaught Hotel in London
You don’t sit at the bar for a martini at the Connaught—you let the martini cart come to you. “It’s easily one of the most elegant rooms I have ever sat in,” says Joaquin Simó, co-owner of Pouring Ribbons in NYC. Once you’re seated, “Ago Perrone, the finest barman alive and working today, wheels over a custom cocktail cart. He expertly stirs up a crystal pitcher’s worth of gin and vermouth. Into each glass goes a different flavor tincture.
“It's then that he defies the very laws of physics by beginning each pour right at the glass, raising the mixing glass higher until it is at his shoulder, all the while never changing the stream or causing a single bubble to appear on the surface of the martini.”
The Three Clubs, Los Angeles, CA
“The Three Clubs in Hollywood was originally conceptualized with martini drinking in mind,” says Michael Neff, principal at Church Bar in Brooklyn, among other projects. “It’s a direct response to the club culture in the nineties and a place that wanted to encourage dressing up, drinking martinis, listening to music, and having a grown-up good time. An amazing place to drink a martini, with its dark, burgundy walls and convivial environment. It's my favorite bar in Los Angeles, and one of my favorite bars anywhere.” Neff’s martini of choice? “50/50 Brooklyn Gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth with an orange twist. Very cold, please.”
Pretty Baby Bar, Columns Hotel, New Orleans
The martini didn’t originate in New Orleans, as many other classics did, but the city is still an incredible spot to appreciate any historical cocktail. Pretty Baby Bar, according to Jim Kearns, partner and beverage director of NYC’s Slowly Shirley, is as atmospheric as they come: the Columns Hotel “with a large patio and balcony for watching streetcars go by or listening to live jazz,” and the bar, “a perfect contrast to it, with a dark, elegant, quiet setting for having a cocktail and passing the time.” His drink of choice: 2:1 Plymouth gin and dry vermouth, with an olive.
Quinary, Hong Kong
Named one of the top 50 cocktail venues in the world by World’s Best Bars, Quinary is an experimental mixology bar in central Hong Kong that nonetheless excels at the classics, according to Cameron MacKenzie, co-owner of Four Pillars Gin. “It's a vibrant, busy bar and a great reflection of a vibrant, busy city. I've sat at this bar sipping a martini and watching Antonio Lai and his team make great drinks and have a huge amount of fun.”
The Varnish, Los Angeles
Having won numerous accolades over its years in operation, this hidden-away bar executes the classics perfectly, and makes a martini to the perfect specifications of Aaron Polsky, bar manager at Harvard & Stone: “Stirred in a frozen mixing glass over -40º cracked ice, served in a frozen coupe in an air-conditioned room.” Another martini variant he loves, also beautifully made at The Varnish: The Tuxedo #2, which incorporates dashes of maraschino and absinthe, garnished with a lemon twist and a cherry.
While most mixologists will stir a martini until very well-chilled, Demie Kim, of the Alice bar in Seoul, uses the “throwing” technique: pouring it back and forth between two mixing tins to combine and aerate the ingredients. “He doesn't throw in order to chill the drink, but rather increase the temperature,” says Noah Kwon of Charles H., also in Seoul; he calls Kim’s martinis “godly.” “He uses frozen Tanqueray 10, straight from the freezer. The gin has chamomile and citrus botanical flavors, and the technique releases their aroma.”
Dear Irving, New York
“A great martini is impacted, to some extent, by the atmosphere of the bar,” says Nick Bennett, head bartender at New York’s Porchlight. “At Dear Irving you feel like Don Draper drinking a martini in a Mad Men-esque room surrounded by beaded curtains and mod-style furniture; or drink like a king in a plush Victorian parlor. There isn’t a bad seat in the bar, and every seat makes drinking a martini feel all the more special.” Bennett is exceedingly precise about his martinis: “A 5:1 made with Plymouth gin and Dolin Dry vermouth. As for the garnish, I prefer a cocktail onion,” technically making the drink a Gibson. “The sweetness of the gin and the pungent brininess of the onion make a beautiful combination. Dear Irving makes some of the best cocktail onions I have had in New York.”
Ian Fleming—creator of James Bond, fiction’s most notorious martini connoisseur—once frequented Dukes, which says something about the caliber of this “pilgrimage-worthy” spot. “It’s essentially neat gin served straight from the freezer, and everything a martini should be,” says David Greig, Group Bar Manager of Black Hoof in Toronto: “Strong, cold, and dangerous in any quantity above two.”
Trish Brew, bar manager at Gin Palace in Melbourne, appreciates the elaborate ceremony. “Once you’re seated, the white jacket-clad waiters flawlessly dress your table with water, napkins, and accouterments. Alessandro Palazzi, in an almost theatrical manner, pours half an ounce of vermouth and at least four ounces of frozen gin directly into a frozen cocktail glass, with a weighty swath of lemon. No dilution! At first I was terrified by the thought of an undiluted Berry Brothers gin martini, but it was crisp and bite-y due to the low temperature, and at that moment I knew there was a god.”
Dry Martini, Barcelona
A bar named after a single cocktail had better execute it perfectly, and according to Allen Katz, co-owner of New York Distilling Company and The Shanty, Dry Martini does. “It’s is an easy walk from Las Ramblas,” the central walking street of Barcelona, “and, as a tourist, has the perfect atmosphere for a martini. The environment, the lighting, the music are all an immediate transport to a time and place when, perhaps, life was simpler, but the surely the pleasure of a good cocktail was a daily activity. There is a bit of showmanship and shtick but the bottom line is their expertise is with gin and vermouth and the drink is superb. I have a 50/50 Plymouth gin martini when I’m there.”
Featherweight, Brooklyn, NY
While many bartenders prefer a lemon twist as a martini garnish, Tonia Guffey, beverage director at Dram, is fond of the particular olives made by Featherweight, a small bar in Brooklyn. “Every once in awhile I crave the ‘Dirty Harry.’ It's their interpretation of the dirty martini, with awesome spices and an delicious olive brine” — with oregano, thyme, rosemary, red pepper, garlic, and lemon peel. Made with Plymouth gin and dry vermouth stirred with that house brine, it’s served in a coupe with fresh black pepper, garnished, of course, with the olives. “It's outrageous—a lot of umami and such a rich flavor.”
Gin Palace, Melbourne
This basement Melbourne lounge, as the name suggests, is well-versed in all things juniper. “[Bar manager] Trish Brew and her crew just know their gin back to front,” says Kevin Peters, bar manager at the Garden State Hotel, also in Melbourne. “They are all welcoming and always happy to offer their opinion, or just make up your favorite concoction.” A huge variety of vermouths, tonics, and sodas complements the gin selection; Peters’s favorite martini of the moment is two parts Le Gin G1&9 to one part Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, garnished with an orange twist.
Star Bar Ginza, Tokyo
Gin (or vodka) and vermouth are the two key components of a classic martini, but Star Bar Ginza in Tokyo, one of the premiere cocktail bars in the city, has their own twist: “They use two different temperatures of Beefeater gin,” according to Naoya Ohtake, head mixologist of MASQ in Tokyo. “One frozen, and one room temperature.” The two iterations of Beefeater Crown Jewel are stirred together with Sacred Extra Dry vermouth and served with a grapefruit peel.
Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans
Frank Caiafa, manager of the Waldorf Astoria's Peacock Alley bar and author of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, is an expert in the world of hotel cocktail bars—and for a martini, he’s partial to the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. “It has what every classic hotel bar has to have to be ‘classic’ in spades. If you’re alone, you could meet someone interesting, or choose to enjoy your drink in solitary peace. And it’s a given that the cocktails are properly made, as classic hotel bars pride themselves on the presentation of the standards.” His martini of choice? “It doesn’t get more classic than a bone-dry gin martini with an olive and lemon twist.”
Le Mary Celeste, Paris
“This bar is amazing,” according to Johnny Swet, cocktail and beverage director of Jimmy at the James in Manhattan. “Paris isn't known for great martinis but after roaming the streets of the Marais, this is an awesome find.” Chic bartenders execute precise martinis, including Swet’s drink of choice, a 50/50 gin-dry vermouth martini with orange bitters.
American Bar at The Savoy, London
In the bartending world, few establishments are treated with quite the reverence of the American Bar at The Savoy. “The stunning bar is just dripping with heritage and history,” says Evelyn Chick, Bar Manager at PrettyUgly Bar in Toronto. “The martini is always perfectly tempered and served with a smile. It does’t get much better than that.” Her martini of choice: A juniper-heavy gin such as Beefeater Crown Jewel, wet, with a lemon twist, served up. Lauren Mote, co-proprietor of Bittered Sling, agrees. “There's something so elegant and historical about enjoying a martini,” she says, “and it's easy for me to feel ‘in the mood’ here. It’s a place where celebrities, dignitaries, high-society and the everyday luxury-seeker alike can mingle amongst each other, martinis in hand.”
New York Grill, Park Hyatt Tokyo
There’s no better accompaniment for a great martini than an incredible view, and the panorama from the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo fits the bill, according to Joaquin Simó, co-owner of Pouring Ribbons in NYC. “While there is no physical bar to sit at there, the view overlooking the never-ending urban expanse of Tokyo, with those haunting red lights slowly blinking from the rooftops, is probably the closest I will ever come to having a drink in Blade Runner.”