My first legal drink was a vodka martini. Because I was naïve and impressionable, and those impressions were formed, of course, by James Bond - the most famous mixed drinker in the world, who made the vodka martini the most glamorous, if not the most famous, mixed drink: legendarily shaken, not stirred, with a twist. I had my first drinks prior to Bond’s heavily merchandised resurgence, so that he, his wardrobe, his drinks and their accoutrements were all at the time distinctly retro if not uncool. It was the age of Slacker. Rituals involving martini shakers seemed like unfamiliar anachronisms. In that way, perhaps they appealed the more for being so exotic.
Over the years, my tastes have matured. I prefer gin, not vodka, in my martinis; I find Bond fun, not cool, and can laugh at myself in recognizing how he influenced so much of what many of us middle-class kids originally thought was sophisticated or elegant. I still think he was right about the twist, even if I’m more likely to make it out of a lime rather than a lemon peel. I like olives, but not in my drinks. And until recently, I kept shaking my martinis despite knowing that purists say it “bruises” the gin. That is, shaking a drink made with clear or translucent liquids can make it cloudy (and supposedly dilute it with ice fragments crushed during shaking).
It took the ineffable #menswear godhead @voxsartoria, my sartorial #schreibro, to help bring me around. As always, I also needed to get my hands on a sufficiently interesting tool to stop being one. I found it in the shape of a sterling silver-bamboo-handled cocktail spoon, a midcentury design by Van Day Truex for an American jeweler. My 1949 Esquire Handbook for Hosts reminds me to use it for drinks made entirely with spirits; those made with fruit juices, nonalcoholic mixers, or cloudy liquids can still be shaken (since the result would be opaque anyway). You’re supposed to use ice cubes in stirred drinks, crushed ice in shaken ones, but I tend to ignore that rule. And indeed, my stirred martinis do taste better – crisper and rather stronger, for better or worse, since less ice gets dissolved stirring instead of shaking. (Yes Isle, you have a standing invite. Ed. note - Invite accepted) I’ve read that stirred drinks are supposed to be colder than shaken ones, but surely that must depend on how long you stir before pouring.
The bamboo got me. I’m a sucker for those odd organic shapes like coral or bamboo, even when rendered in metal instead of the real whangee of John Steed’s umbrella. The piece was part of a broader collection. But today we’re a long way from midcentury, a long way from a world in which we could claim to have a lifestyle requiring, or affording, all the patterned utensils of a collection, from cocktail to demitasse. Instead, at best most of us can only hope to salvage what we need from history’s subduction. So many wonderful, glorious things eventually get pulled under never to reappear again. At least with this spoon, stirring seems less prosaic. And it’s long enough, if not to sup with the devil, then to drink with mine.
Between the shaker and the stirrer, and with a well-enough stocked bar, you can be prepared to mix just about any drink imaginable, as rattled off by Christopher Lee in one of cinema’s great moments, his musical number “Name Your Poison” in The Return of Captain Invincible. More often than not, mine is still the martini, here on a coaster with three-dimensional images based on Kota Ozawa’s LYAM 3D, an art installation with clips from Last Year at Marienbad. The spoon rests on bamboo hashioki finished with urushi lacquer. Deflating all pretension, however, the martini glass is an Iittala knockoff I got free with a bottle of vodka. We can’t escape ourselves, after all.