Here's How to Make the Best Martini in NYC

The Bemelmans Martini is iconic for a reason, and now you can make one at home.

Martinis from Bemelman's Bar

Andrew Moore

How exactly does a place earn the reputation of having the very best of something, like a burger, a croissant, or a cocktail? Part of it has to do with word of mouth, fueled (I hope) by press, social media, and, of course, eye-catching branding. But even in the age of quick-hit content designed for shorter attention spans, I’d argue that time remains a key ingredient to credibly laying claim to the title of “best” anything.

If an establishment opens in May and makes a “best of” list in September, I’ll be curious to stop by; but it’s the spots that have been open for twenty, thirty, or even forty years and still make a cheeseburger that tops those same lists –– J.G Melon, which opened its doors in New York City in 1972, or Vito & Nick’s, which has been slinging pizzas in Chicago since 1950 –– that I want to learn recipes and techniques from. 

When it comes to learning how to make the very best classic Martini, at least in New York City, I talked with Pedro Caballero, longtime bartender at Bemelmans Bar inside the Carlyle, a Rosewood hotel. Read on for his tips on mastering every kind of Martini.

Ditch your assumptions about vodka versus gin

For years, vodka was the default spirit for a Martini, and bartenders wouldn’t even think to ask for an alternative. Recently, gin has become the more popular choice, especially among younger drinkers –– at Bemelmans, you can choose from 18 different bottles, sourced from Japan, Spain, England, and beyond. Caballero’s go-tos for each? Beefeater, which also shines in a classic Negroni, and Tito’s, for vodka

Sidecars are sacred

Madeline's Vesper from Bemelmans Bar

Jennifer Cooke

At Bemelmans, you can expect a sidecar –– those miniature carafes rested in a small bowl of ice –– alongside your Martini. Caballero explains that the key purpose is to ensure every sip of your Martini is as cold as possible, but there’s also the added element of visual appeal, and, well, the excitement of having more of your drink. 

Buy a better brine

“We go through a lot of brine,” says Caballero laughing, “so it doesn’t make sense to just keep buying bottles of olives.” Instead, the team at Bemelmans relies on pre-packaged olive brine from Filthy, which offers a clean, nutty flavor without overshadowing the gin. 

How to make different styles of the Martini

Once you’ve pinned down your guest’s spirit of choice, it’s important to ask about style. Terms like “bone dry”, “dirty”, or “wet” can be a little confusing, and the exact ratios that constitute each can shift from bar to bar. At Bemelmans, 60% of Martini orders are made dirty, but guests also come in to order the classic cocktail extra-dry, wet, or “perfect.” Here's how to make other popular Martini styles, according to Caballero:

Classic or Wet Martini

Calls for 3 ½ oz gin and ½ ounce dry vermouth. Serve stirred, with a lemon twist garnish.

Dry Martini

Calls for 3 ½ ounces gin or vodka and ¼ ounce dry vermouth. Serve stirred, with lemon twist or olive garnish.

Extra-Dry Martini

Calls for 3 ½ ounce gin or vodka, and dry vermouth and out. The latter means rinsing the glass with a small portion of dry vermouth, and then discarding the vermouth. Serve stirred with a lemon twist or olive garnish.

Bone-Dry Martini

Calls for 3 ½ ounces gin or vodka, no vermouth. Serve stirred, with a lemon twist or olive garnish.

Dirty Martini

Calls for 3 ½ ounces gin or vodka, ½ ounce dry vermouth, and ½ ounce olive brine. Serve stirred, garnished with olives.

Extra-Dirty Martini

Calls for 3 ½ ounces gin or vodka, ½ ounce dry vermouth, and 1 ounce olive brine. Serve stirred, garnished with olives.

50/50 Martini

Calls for 1 ¾ ounce gin, 1 ¾ ounce dry vermouth, and 2 dashes orange bitters. Serve stirred, garnished with a lemon twist.

Perfect Martini

Calls for 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce dry vermouth, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, ½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Serve with a lemon twist.

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