Martinis have gotten out of hand.
We’re not talking about the (occasionally way too) passionate gin vs. vodka debate, or the extremely dirty new heights to which some bartenders are taking the drink, or even the many, many cocktail menus that mislabel anything served in a cocktail glass as a Martini. The issue here has less to do with what is in the glass and more to do with how much is in the glass.
What was once an elegant cocktail that contained a respectable amount of liquor has morphed into a monster that clocks in at anywhere from four to eight ounces—big enough to knock even a seasoned drinker off their feet.
Even if you’re a fan of drinking a pint of pure booze, the sheer magnitude of the drink contributes to one of the biggest problems with the modern Martini: Keeping the massive cocktail cold until the very end.
“In my bar, when I see people who have been talking for 20 minutes over a Martini I’ll go up to them with a little scoop and a tiny ice cube and say, ‘Do you want a little ice in that?’” says Toby Cecchini, writer, bartender and owner of Long Island Bar in Brooklyn, NY. The standard Martini at his bar is about three and a half ounces total—modest by today’s standards. “They’ll look at me like I have horns on my head. They’re like, ‘You don’t put an ice cube in a Martini.’ Well, I do! A warm Martini is like a cold egg—what do you need that for?”
Luckily, there’s an easy fix for this conundrum: Make the Martini tiny again.
Cecchini’s been a proponent of the tiny Martini for a while now, at least since he inherited a collection of what would now be considered miniature Martini glasses from the previous owners of the Long Island Bar space, which has been in operation since 1949. He calls the tiny glasses “actual physical evidence that the Martini used to be a much smaller entity.”
It’s true: If you look at early- to mid-century recipe books, you’ll typically find some iteration of the Martini that equals no more than three ounces of liquid, often less. A recipe from Jacques Straub’s 1914 reference Drinks calls for a half jigger of French vermouth and a half jigger of dry gin. Depending on the jigger, that could have been anywhere from an ounce to two ounces of Martini.
These modest proportions explain how Nora Charles was able to put down six Martinis in a row in the 1934 film The Thin Man, and have nothing more to show for it than a headache. Or how the three-Martini lunch was a regular occurrence a few decades later, though the Martini had started to grow in size even by then. Try either of these shticks in any restaurant or bar now and you’re likely to wind up in the emergency room.
By the 1980s, the Martini had fallen too far—and gotten too big—to turn back.
“A Martini is a lovely thing, but it’s a powerhouse,” Cecchini says. “To me, a Martini is those first three sips of absolute perfection—and then I’ll just dump it, because if I finish it I’ll be tanked.”
Fortunately, Cecchini is well on the way to convincing at least industry insiders of the benefits of a smaller drink. The renowned bartender was the brains behind the Absolut Elyx Tiny Martini bar at Tales of the Cocktail this year, which turned out to be a hit. Cecchini turned on the “aquarium on a stick” in favor of miniature glasses, which held no more than two ounces of ice-cold perfection.
“It’s a tiny little bump of extremely cold, extremely fresh liquid in this wonderful little glass,” says Cecchini, adding that his ideal Martini is an ounce and half of spirit and half an ounce of vermouth. After dilution, that’s equivalent to two and a half ounces of drink in a three-ounce glass.
The best part about Cecchini’s mini Martini is that it stays ice cold until the very end. Whether you choose to go back for another Martini or try something new and exciting is up to you, but unlike the usual colossal Martini, these tiny sips aren’t a one-and-done deal.
“If you want more than that, have another,” he says. “Make it something people can envision and have two for $16. It’s always more thrilling getting a fresh drink. It should be this elegant, little, extremely cold, vivifying thing.”
Now, it’s just up to Martini fans to get on board and convince bars everywhere to stop the madness. Until then, take one of Cecchini’s teeny Martinis on a test drive.
Toby Cecchini’s Teeny Martini
1.5 oz gin or vodka (Cecchini prefers Plymouth Gin or Absolut Elyx)
.5 oz dry vermouth (Cecchini prefers Cocchi Americano Bianco)
Dash of orange bitters (optional)
Lemon twist or olive, for garnish
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice.
Stir until thoroughly chilled.
Strain into a chilled cordial glass or small coupe and garnish with a lemon twist or olive.