Bartenders, Help Me Out: Why is My Damn Martini Never Dirty?!

One of life’s great pleasures is having a “signature” drink.  A reliable fallback that you can order almost anywhere, one that evokes the same sensations on your tongue every single time such that, over the years, those tongue sensations begin to automatically evoke reactions in your mind. “The day is over,” the liquid says to your tastebuds say to your cerebral cortex, “It’s time to take a deep breath and relax.”

Ok, it’s possible I sound like a bit of an alcoholic.  But admit it, I’m right.

It took me until I was about 27 to find that drink.  I tried everything – beer (too bitter for an entry-level evening drink), red wine (usually awful at bars), champagne (a close second, but more often than not flat and disappointing) and a variety of cocktails.  As a cocktail snob, I first gravitated towards the complex.  But just like how the food at your local molecular gastronomy palace doesn’t really comfort the soul, a lavender-infused aviation with hibiscus bitters isn’t what gets an evening going.

As many of you know, I settled on the greatest drink of them all: the Dirty Gin Martini.  Preferably made with local craft gin (thought beefeater will do in a pinch), straight up, blue cheese olives and a healthy splash of that ambrosial salt water.

Before you decide to snob at me about how it’s not a real cocktail – just shush.  I’ve already written that essay, and anyone who think I’m a rube can go to hell.

I’ve had thousands of them.  I know the best bars at which to order them and the ones that will give me a glass of something that tastes like Windex with olives floating in it.  I know the restaurants that make surprisingly strong ones (Hello Uncommon Ground!) and the craft cocktail bars that serve them in adorable vintage glasses … that just happen to only hold about an ounce and a half for $13.  I’m looking at you, Watershed. 

espite my vast experience (or, perhaps, because of it) I have one common thread running through my dirty martini experience: My order fails at least 50% of the time.  


By fails, of course, I mean the bar serves me a straight, "clean" martini.  Occasionally, even a straight "clean" vodka martini, which is a true sin.

When I explain this to people, they look at me with shock and disbelief.  That can’t be true, they seem to say. You must just be picky. 

Nope.  Half the time it comes back, clear as water, missing 1/3 of the ingredients.  I can see it coming from all the way across the dining room, a shimmering mirage of impending embarrassment as I have to say to the waiter “actually, that’s not what I ordered.”  Half the time I just drink the damn thing. The rest of the time, they bring me a side of juice, which is just sad. From time to time, they take the drink back, and I always cringe, knowing that, rather than remaking it, they’re going to add olive juice and RESHAKE IT, which means I’ll be getting a glass of water instead of a cocktail.

Imagine, by way of understanding my pain, if your favorite manhattan came back as straight whiskey or your margarita as lime juice mixed with tequila.  Except, wait, these would never happen because only the dirty drinkers are cursed.  And then imagine if, instead of remaking the drink, they brought you a little sidecar of triple sec to make it better. People would faint with horror.

My partner in crime (who also loves the drink) and I have developed a series of strategies.  We subtly (or not so much) repeat the word “dirty” 5-6 times during an order.   “I’d like a dirty gin martini, straight up, dirty, with olives, dirty, gin, no ice.  Oh, and by the way, dirty.”  But that still doesn’t work.   We each order the same drink, but with slightly different wording in hopes that it sinks in, but then, often, we get different drinks! The biggest indicator of trouble: When the server or bartender responds with “oh, do you want olives in that?” Sometimes it makes me want to cry a little bit.

So bartenders, I ask you: What am I doing wrong?  Is it that I talk to fast? That I look so sophisticated that the restaurant personnel just assume I must not mean that I want a drink of tourists and amateur imbibers? That the waitstaff keys it in wrong? That the bartender hates the drink, and so decides to substitute another in hopes of raising the level of my drinking?

Should I develop a series of hand signals? Flash cards?  Perhaps make my server sign a form – “I hereby attest that I understand that Anthony wants his cocktail with all the requisite ingredients.”  Is there a secret code word known to insiders?  At this point, I’m willing to try anything short of getting behind the bar and making it myself.  

Help me, mixers – you are my only hope.