Martini Lore

Christopher Hirsheimer

"The martini is a very serious thing for a bartender," Mauro Lotti, longtime head bartender at Le Grand Hotel in Rome, once told us. "If you don't make it right, you might as well retire. Clients are very severe about their martinis. And the martini has made a new breed of man—the martinian. You can recognize him the minute he walks in—very slowly, with determination. He's always wearing a well-worn jacket and old, comfortable shoes, often English-style. And the tie—he always wears a tie—is never a smart color, but soft. He looks you straight in the eye, and before he utters a word, I know that he's going to ask for a martini. And 90 percent of the time, I'm right.

"Tennessee Williams was a martinian. He would come to the bar with his funny little dog, who would jump up on the barstool as soon as I finished making Tennessee's martini. The dog would delicately poke his nose into the glass, pull out the stick with the olive on it, and toss it to the floor, where he would eat it.

"Another martinian was Richard Burton. Burton's martini was extremely large, and I served him many of them over the years. He came in late one night with Elizabeth Taylor. She was carrying an enormous bouquet of roses. He ordered his usual martini, and she ordered champagne. Their conversation became so heated that she stood up and started hitting him with her roses. He clutched his martini and through it all he didn't spill a drop."