I was reminded of the classic Houston martini during a recent visit to the long-inviting happy at Mockingbird. I ask the waiter what kind of vermouth he uses in the martini. He replied none, really. They just swirl it around the glass and deposit it in the drain. This similar to Flemings on West Alabama that serves far more martinis than the typical establishment. Typically, “in a dry martini just a few drops or even a mist of dry vermouth. However, most people who order a dry martini would be happy with no vermouth,” according to Mike Dalby, one of the longtime stalwarts there. And Café Annie does not use any vermouth at all. And, a bartender at Leon’s Lounge was unaware that you could even put in vermouth into a shaker when making a martini. Really.
The classic Houston martini is London dry gin (or vodka, if you must, though shouldn’t) shaken with plenty of ice until very cold and then strained into the familiar v-shaped martini glass that might bear just a residue of inexpensive dry vermouth, or not, and garnished with pitted olives on a plastic skewer set atop or amid the flakes of ice. This is type of martini that is usually ordered by an older, or at least middle-aged clientele in the nicer or more formal restaurants, especially those serving plenty of expensive steaks. With the proliferation of crafted cocktails and more of an appreciation of the taste of quality – and not overly oxidized – vermouth, who knows how long this type of long-popular martini order will last. Even more so, not as many younger drinkers order martinis, even if cocktails are more popular than they have been in decades.
My guess is that these classic Houston martinis will find a place for a while. A lot of livers still have to give out before then.