Most who know me know I’m pretty predictable when it comes to a cocktail order: gin martini between Easter and Halloween, rye Manhattan otherafter. As I had my last martini of 2017 last night, it reminded me of my love for martinis—and my love for New York City, and love in New York City.
I can trace my first martini back to 1997, to my one of my nights, in February, living in New York City. At the end of my first day of work as an editorial assistant at a fashion magazine for a major publisher, my friend who also worked as an assistant at the company insisted we go out and celebrate with a martini at the Royalton Hotel bar, then known colloquially as the off-campus cafeteria of our publishing company. A martini at the Royalton in the late ’90s was emblematic of a moment in time. Glossy magazine publishing was still an aspirational career field, I had wanted to move to New York since I was a teenager, and finally, I had made it here. That first martini signified the beginning of my New York story.
My second icy V-shaped glass of wonder was equally memorable. Same year, same quarter. I was having a long-distance relationship with a woman in DC, who visited me in New York a couple of times. We wound up one night at Bar D’o, which anyone who knew me in the ’90s and ’00s, and lots who didn’t, will remember was a terrific bar with a terrific drag show on the weekends, the kind of place where it was really dark, the drinks were fine not artisanal, possibly indiscreet things happened in bathrooms, and if you stayed there long enough—and a couple times, I did—you might find yourself dancing on the bar, Coyote Ugly-style. My paramour suggested martinis. What’s that, I wondered, and went along for the ride. First one was vodka, with olives, dirty. Delicious, briny, strong, impassioned—like the relationship that introduced it. Knocks you over the head like a sack of bricks, kind of like first lesbian love.
Third martini memory: Same year, still same quarter probably. Met with a lover I had known in New York but before I moved to New York, an equally strong and passionate personality. We as a we were over but she wanted to remain friends and introduce me to her new boyfriend (yes, boyfriend, that’s a different post). We went to some bar in Soho maybe, and she taught me how to perfect a vodka martini order: Ketel One, dry, dirty martini, up. So many modifiers, I thought. What does Ketel One even mean, I wondered? That one was served in a gigantic martini glass, like they used to do at Merc Bar on Mercer Street, probably closer to 10 or 12 ounces. Too big for me and yet never enough. I loved the ex-girlfriend, loved the new boyfriend, and really loved the gigantic dirty martini. I went home to my first NYC apartment in Chelsea that night, took off my clothes, and sat on the floor in my bra and underwear and began to cry. My roommate walked in and said, “What’s wrong?” I just met her boyfriend, I explained. And, my roommate wondered? It didn’t go well? “He’s awesome,” I cried, bemoaning love past, love anew, the passage of time, and, really, too much vodka for one young, green, new-to-New-York lesbian.
And then I met gin. And my next girlfriend, who would become my domestic partner, my common-law wife, my co-parent, my fellow New York City lover and adventurer. We had both moved to Manhattan that same year, dazzled by the skyscrapers, the publishing industry, book parties that served free appetizers so we didn’t have to eat cereal for dinner, the gay bars on Avenue A, the payphones where we would phone each other, tipsy, encouraging late-night meet ups at said East Village drinkeries.
And then I met her parents. We would later refer to them as low WASPs, from central Pennsylvania. So different from my family, and yet so welcoming to me. I first met my new girlfriend’s mother at the Soho Grand, and she ordered a gin martini. I ordered one too because when in Rome, aka meeting your future life partner’s mother for the first time, you have to nail the drink. I had surely had gin & tonic before, but never a gin martini. It was a different universe from a vodka martini, and yet in a similar galaxy, and it would be the first of many fancy hotel-bar martinis I would share with my future mother-in-law (one at Joel Robuchon restaurant at some hotel lingers as a high one, with an equally high price point). After some time, a gin martini became my standard drink, and, like my mother-in-law, I got more hard-core and stopped drinking it dirty, but did insist on it being very very dry—just a “whisper” of vermouth, we used to say. Like the Princess and the Pea on the mattress below her, and perhaps equally embarrassing, I can taste more than a whisper of vermouth in any martini now.
My own mother tried her first martini at my now in-laws house over one holiday weekend at the Jersey Shore. My mother enjoys wine but is teeny tiny and her tolerance is low. Nevertheless, she bound down the stairs at the Shore house, sporting a dress and sandals and a red lip, asking my father-in-law, “What does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?” She, too, charmed the in-laws, and then had what we have come to refer to as a Baby Martini.
There have been rough nights after martinis, too, of course, as any martini drinker has no doubt racked up—any love story of course holds its highs and lows.
Twenty years later, a lot has changed. Bar D’o isn’t around anymore, nor is Merc Bar, nor most of those East Village haunts (WonderBar, anyone?) that were the playgrounds of our 20s. But some things haven’t. My commonlaw wife and I still call it a good night when we can find a sitter, slip into a decent bar, and order two very dry Beefeater martinis, straight up with an olive (dear wife has evolved into ordering hers with twist, because we like to shake things once in awhile).