Ordering a Martini can be daunting. It’s a simple cocktail, but if you’re not sure how you prefer it or what you should say, requesting one can feel like a test. The movies haven’t helped, either. James Bond’s preference for a Vodka Martini “shaken, not stirred” has drinkers incorrectly thinking that the cocktail should never touch a bar spoon, while other films have urged people to order a Martini “straight up,” an order that will essentially just get you a cold glass of gin.
So, to help you get the exact Martini you want, we enlisted some expert bartenders to help clarify the right way to order the drink. They have some individual guidelines to help you navigate the process, but in the end they all agree on one thing: A Martini order is personal and you should spend time finding out exactly how you like it. And then, once you know, order confidently.
What’s Your Style?
It’s important to note that if you order a Martini you will receive a cold, boozy cocktail made with vodka or gin, dry vermouth and a garnish—and nothing else.
“When I first started bartending, ‘Martini’ became synonymous with any drink that was served up in a cocktail glass. People used to refer to Cosmos and Lemondrops as Martinis,” says Jeff Bell, general manager of PDT in New York. “We used to get asked all the time what kind of Martinis we had—we’ve come a long way.”
So here’s the first step for ordering a Martini: You have to want a real Martini—not a fruity thing in a V-shaped glass. All set? Good. We shall proceed. “Creating a memorable Martini starts with balancing three things: choice of spirit, style of cocktail and, finally, the flavor enhancing garnish,” explains Pippa Guy, senior bartender at the American Bar in London. “Which spirit would you like for your Martini: gin or vodka? How would you like it: wet, dry or dirty? Do you have a preferred garnish? The style of Martini is the part that scares most people.”
Here’s Guy’s quick run down of your three basic Martini styles: “A Dry Martini is made with less vermouth, therefore the ratio of spirit to vermouth is higher, meaning that will be the most prominent flavor. A Wet Martini is made with a higher ratio of vermouth to spirit. A Dirty Martini uses olives—either the brine or, at the American Bar, we like to muddle our olives into the drink so you get a powerful olive flavor alongside the salinity.”
Vodka or Gin?
The age old conundrum when ordering a Martini is whether you should ask for vodka or gin. There’s no wrong answer (although traditionally a Martini is made with gin), so it really depends on taste preference.
“A classic Martini is with gin,” says Jillian Vose, beverage director at The Dead Rabbit in NYC. “If they want vodka, it's best if they specify that. Otherwise, I would assume gin. Although vodka is technically made the same way as gin, after or during distillation, gin has botanicals added to it. If you'd like more layers of flavor including juniper, citrus, spices and herbs, then gin is the way to go.”
“This comes down to personal preference and experimentation,” says Guy. “A Gin Martini will include the punch of juniper and botanicals, whereas the Vodka Martini has an elegant level of purity.”
“I like Vodka Martinis and I like Gin Martinis, but the ratio of each spirit to vermouth is quite different,” says Bell. “I prefer more citrusy gins like Plymouth, Tanqueray 10 and Ford’s, mixed three parts to one part gin to vermouth. But that’s just my preference.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things and ask for recommendations. “I'm a fan of experimenting rather than always ordering the same thing, and this is where your bartender can help,” says Jeff Cleveland, lead bartender at the Rowan Hotel in Palm Springs. “But, rather than asking what their favorite gin or vodka is, share a brand you've enjoyed in the past and ask for a similar recommendation. Or if you're travelling, ask if there are any locally distilled vodkas or gins you can try.”
Shaken or Stirred?
Whether your Martini comes shaken or stirred is usually determined by your spirit of choice. “I always say, if you want it ice cold, go for vodka since it’s shaken,” notes Johnny Swet, head mixologist at The Skylark in NYC. “If you want it cold without any ice crystals, go for a beautifully stirred gin.”
Stirring is most common, however. “I prefer them to be stirred because of the chill and texture it delivers,” Bell says. “I think a shaken Martini is a bit watery and light.” But, as always, it’s up to you. And if you want to channel your inner Bond, go ahead and order your Martini shaken like a maraca.
What’s Your Garnish?
The most common Martini garnishes are olives, a cocktail onion or a citrus twist, usually lemon. It’s really a matter of personal preference, and most bartenders agree that you can have whatever you like without judgment.
“Lemon gives a high note to the drink, it brings the vermouth, bitters and base spirit together,” Vose says. “If you'd like a little brine and a snack at the end of your drink, then order olives. And there is no shame in asking for both.”
“Here’s a pro tip,” says Edwin Cruz, beverage director at Winsome in Los Angeles. “If you want a Gin Martini with onion it’s called a Gibson. The garnish on a Martini is meant to enhance or feature the aspect you like most about the gin or vodka, and vermouth. If you like savory, go for an olive or onion. If you want to bring out the bright clean citrus or floral notes, go for a twist. Don’t be afraid to consult your bartender on which option will work best for your spirit of choice.”
What Not to Order
If you’re in a reputable bar, there’s no reason to specify that you’d like your Martini served “up.”
“Say 'on the rocks' if you'd like your Martini over ice,” Vose says. “But otherwise it should be implied that your Martini is going to be served ‘up.’” And, whatever you do, don’t order your Martini straight up. “‘Straight up’ typically means that you don’t want any vermouth in your Martini,” Cruz adds. “So unless that’s really what you want, don’t use that terminology.”
The question of vermouth can sometimes trip people up, especially when it comes to wet versus dry Martinis. Ask the bartender for advice if you’re not sure, but definitely don’t skip the vermouth all together. “A common mistake people make when ordering a Martini is axing the vermouth,” Vose says. “That, in my opinion, is the best part. It gives depth, character and layers to the drink. Martinis are supposed to have vermouth, people!”
It’s also important to be careful when selecting a garnish that might aversely change the drink. “Asking for a blue cheese stuffed olive is a mistake,” says Paul McGee, partner at Lost Lake in Chicago. “I’m all about eating some funky cheese with your Martini, but plopping a hunk of blue cheese inside the glass creates a strange oily layer on top and changes the flavor of your perfect Martini.”
Ultimately, just be clear with what you like and a good bartender at a good bar will know how to help. “The biggest mistake made is not being specific,” Cleveland says. “Many people are going to order the same drink they enjoy every time they go out, so it's likely they've learned what they like and what they don't. Share that information as part of your order. You might say, ‘I'd like a dry, Tanqueray Martini up with a lemon twist.’ But it's just as helpful to say, ‘I really want a Vodka Martini, but I don't want vermouth. I'd like that on ice and with some olives.’ Either order clearly tells the bartender what drink to make you.” Whatever you do, don’t not order a Martini. That crystal clear cocktail (or murky, foggy drink, if you like it extra dirty) is one of life’s great joys.