There are a lot of drinks masquerading under the term “Martini.” The word now refers more to a class of cocktails somehow combining some mix of gin, vodka, vermouth, bitters and any other bastardizing flavor a mixologist might choose to mess with in the bar of your choice.
None of those are a Martini. A Martini is a Martini. And, the Knickerbocker Hotel just off Times Square in New York claims to have brought it into the world decades ago. During a recent stay at the newly refurbished Manhattan landmark, I checked in, dropped off my bags in the room and headed like a shot to the hotel’s fourth floor lounge and bar (Charlie Palmer at the Knick) with a mission to sample a fresh, cold pour of the classic.
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Just as purists insist anything vodka or bitter or juice or anything else isn’t a Martini, the purest of the purists might insist that a true Martini has two real ingredients — quality gin and dry vermouth, stirred in ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Done. Using just two ingredients might make some folks think that a Martini is a highball, but vermouth is a wine derivative. A highball needs booze and a non-alcoholic mixer. Two alcoholic ingredients warrant cocktail status.
The Knickerbocker offers what’s classically called the Perfect Martini. They say it was invented in 1912 by then hotel bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia. John D. Rockefeller took a liking to it, and the rest is history.
The Perfect Martini follows the traditional preparation, but it blends equal parts sweet and dry vermouth with its quality gin (and a lemon peel). The result is a golden color, a more floral aroma, and warmer and fuller finish. It’s served properly ice cold and sits there before you as a proper drink for a man to order. Perfect, indeed.
Of course, there are whispers that Rockefeller didn’t drink, and the real Martini was invented in the 1800s, but little of that matters when you’re sipping the Knickerbocker’s signature drink and gazing out over Times Square.