The great British martini

I spent the last couple of weeks in the UK visiting my parents; I also went to my brother’s wedding. The night of the wedding there was an open bar, so I thought ‘score, let’s get some cocktails’. Ok it wasn’t really an open bar, but they let me charge drinks to the room and my dad put his credit card on the room so it was open for me at least. Let’s say it was slightly ajar.

This being the midlands, and a hotel bar at that, I wasn’t super confident that they’d be able to manage fancy cocktails. Peeking at the bottles behind the bar, I was a little discouraged. Baileys, yes (although being vegan I don’t drink Baileys anyway); tequila yes, I think I may have even glimpsed a bottle of Bols Blue. But no long line of syrups and liqueurs with names beginning in ‘creme de…’. No triple sec. No olives. No array of different shaped glasses or selection of old whiskeys. My confidence was not high.

So I thought I’d break them in easy. A classic drink, maybe the simplest cocktail to make: a martini. So here we go. I started out fairly hopeful, despite the fact that the boy behind the bar looked like the inside of a chip bag and was clearly only just old enough to stand up behind a bar, let alone work at one.

Me: Could I have a martini, please?

Bartender: Sure, sweet or dry?

A promising beginning right? Wrong. At this point the bartender looks slightly confused. For those who don’t know, I should probably make it clear at this point that a martini is a drink, but Martini is also a brand of vermouth. A dry martini contains dry vermouth, whereas dry Martini is a kind of dry vermouth. Not so complex.

Me: Dry please.

Bartender goes to pick up the Martini bottle

Bartender: You want anything else with that?

I look slightly stunned as I’m thinking he can’t have imagined I’d want just vermouth. Perhaps he thought I’d pronounced the capital M

Me: … yes… a gin martini please.

Bartender: You want any ice?

I look even more stunned, and possibly slightly horrified

Me: No thanks

Bartender: Slice of lemon?

Me: No thanks

This is a traditional British bar thing to say, and they’d probably offer you a slice of lemon if you ordered a hacksaw, three planks of wood and a packet of badger shavings.

The bartender looks even more confused and begins to pour vermouth and gin into a HIGHBALL GLASS!

Bartender: I’ve never made one like this before

I smile glassily, and strongly consider never returning to the UK again.

So, with my highball glass in hand, I made my way back to the table, resolving that I’d never be able to explain to the poor lad how to make a dirty martini, a long island iced tea, a singapore sling or a corpse reviver. My evening of cocktails was ruined, and as I sipped the martini, I realized that the kid had not only used the wrong glass, but also used sweet vermouth. James Bond would have been proud.



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