Make Mine Filthy

The history behind the murkiest of martinis

F.D.R. liked it dirty. Our 32nd president, a hearty tippler and never Prohibition's biggest fan, merrily toasted its repeal with his preferred cocktail: a gin martini muddled with a teaspoon of olive brine. His sly choice of the dirty martini served not only as a nose-thumbing to teetotaling wife Eleanor, but the heralding of his unofficial second New Deal—the end to prudish posturing and the start of a really damn good time. He who had nothing to fear was rumored to haul around his own martini-making kit, gleefully stirring up one for Stalin during the Tehran Conference in 1943. (The unworthy dictator whined it "made the stomach cold.")

Though times have changed—nowadays, vodka is used more often than gin—fans of the dirty martini will tell you there's only one acceptable variation on a plain ol' dry one. Make it nasty, sleazy, and as a friend of mine who orders it everywhere instructs, "as filthy as the Atlantic Ocean." This was never about drinking to your health.

Here are four bars that serve up a good one: 1. Oak Bar: This classic, old-school joint pours a strong libation, but you're paying for the nostalgia factor as well. Roughly $15.50-$18, depending on the type of gin or vodka used. 2. Bull & Bear: An after-work hang of the financial set, this place doesn't skimp on the amount of Stoli Gold they use—all the better to forget a bad day at the stock market. 3. Marion's Continental: Owner Richard Bach sagely believes a quality dirty martini is all about proportions: "You have to get the three flavors balancing out: a whiff of Vermouth, not too dry . . . and wet it with the olive juice." $8. 4. Grace: Bartenders at this Tribeca nightspot believe it's better to err on the conservative side by adding only a splash of olive juice to their Ultimate Martini (premium Russian Zyr vodka with a "breath" of French Vermouth, stirred and served straight up). $10.

 
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