Martinis have changed. A martini used to be gin with a splash of vermouth, garnished with an olive or two and presented in the stallion of glassware known as the martini glass. It looked sexy and sophisticated in your hand, and what was inside that glass would get you three sheets to the wind, not to mention laid.
My grandfather used to drink his martinis so dry he said wafting the cork from a bottle of vermouth above the drink was all he needed to balance the gin. Noel Coward suggested that a martini should only be made “by filling the glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy,” one of the world’s major producers of vermouth.
But the modern-day martini isn’t your grandfather’s nightcap. We’ve swapped fruit for olives, flavored vodka for gin, and I’ll buy you a drink if you can introduce me to a college girl who knows what vermouth even is.
My grandpa would be livid.
Here to make the case for the modern martini, however, is Back Bay’s Charlesmark Lounge. Its martini menu offers 11 mixtures, none of which are made of the classic gin, vermouth and olives. Instead, lounge manager and legendary bartender Jefferson Ryder uses ingredients like Limoncello, Amaretto and crème de banana to make a new breed of cocktail.
The first Thursday of every month, the Lounge now offers tasting events to show off their artisan, delicately crafted martinis.
Guests are given a cheat-sheet presenting the three martinis chosen for the night, in the deliberate order you should taste them. April’s tasting offered new springtime cocktails being field-tested in consideration for a permanent spot on the menu.
The first is the Black-eyed Cherry: it looks like the most classic martini, garnished with a cherry and rustically sweet, welcoming spring to the city with Grey Goose Cherry Noir, L’Orange, triple sec, cranberry juice and a float of champagne. By the end of the first round (about 20 minutes in) the lounge is entirely packed and thus begins the mingling.
Next is the Blood Orange Sunrise, a cocktail play on an orange creamsicle, freshly shaken into a smoothie-like texture. This guy strayed furthest from the classic martini but loosened everyone up into a summer mood with Bacardi “O,” Sorrento Orangcello, Grand Marnier, and fresh lemon and orange juices.
And the last on the menu was, well, let’s be honest.
By the time everyone reached their third martini, eyes were glossed, inhibitions were tossed, and you know how it goes.
But according to my cheat-sheet the third martini was the signature Charlesmark Cosmopolitan, a blend of simple syrup and cranberry with Bacardi Limon, Bacardi Razz and triple sec.
So these aren’t the martinis you’d see James Bond or anyone from Mad Men taking down to swoon a lady. But as the Charlesmark reminds us, the martinis may have changed since the ’60s, but the martini culture hasn’t.
It’s a lifestyle of glamor and letting loose, all centered around a sexy little bombshell of a cocktail. The martini tasting events at the Lounge are about getting dolled up for a night out, sky-high pumps and loosened neckties. And whether in the ’60s or now, the martini still stands, swirling in its vase of a glass, as the symbol of class, superiority, and — as the Charlesmark will tell you — “the frosty libation that brings a close to the dreaded work week and marks the beginning of what we really live for.”
Martini tastings are held the first Thursday of every month, 6-8 pm.
655 Boylston St.