Small Press Cocktails

On Comebacks: Renata Adler and the Gin Martini


I am obsessed with living thematically. It infects pretty much everything I do.  I wear Breton striped shirts and make mussels meuniere to watch French movies—even if I’m alone. I listen to Pavarotti when I cook puttanesca, Edith Piaf when preparing coq au vin, and the Allman Brothers when I fry chicken. All of this sounds cute until it’s not. Like when I had to wear my newly-purchased, authentic riding boots for a walk in Sparks, Maryland because it was horse country and ended up having a tantrum a five-year-old would envy when my shins started bleeding because—newsflash—real riding boots are made for riding, not walking.

Anyway. Some more successful moments of my thematic preoccupation have to do with the fine partnering of good book and a good drink. I’ve decided to explore some of these successes via a recurring feature called Small Press Cocktails.IMG_0343

So, for the theme—this time it’s all about comebacks. Renata Adler, once a famed writer, critic, and New Yorker contributor, then scorned pariah for biting the fabled hand and writing a tad-too-truthful (or perhaps just spiteful) tell-all of that same publication, returned with a bang this past spring via really gorgeous new editions of her novels, Speedboat and Pitch Dark, published by the New York Review of Books. The subsequent media attention was impressive; you can read great pieces in the Guardian and New York magazine, and even The New Yorker welcomed her back (literally).

Her first novel, Speedboat, is a sharp, smart and often hilarious collection of thoughts and anecdotes narrated by Jen Fain, a witty and slightly disillusioned reporter living in New York City in the 70’s. The construction of the book is unusual – it’s episodic without adhering to any real chronology, and the cast is sparse, as Jen only vaguely outlines her diverse and snobby group of friends and often regrettable boyfriends. It is through the tracking of these boyfriends that one can piece together some sort of timeline, and it is during a characteristically wry exchange with one of these boyfriends that Jen orders our second comeback, the classic Gin Martini, served just the way I like it, with a twist replacing the olive.

We had ordered martinis, straight up, with a twist of lemon. The waitress had brought martinis with olives. This had the force of an éclaircissement. “Not exactly a twist of lemon,” I said when she had left. “No,” Jim said, “it isn’t.” That was it. I have known Jim, after all, a long time. I still make these inane attempts to have a conversation. Once, in a call from Natchez, Jim uncharacteristically interrupted a memo he was reading to me, to say, “Hello, are you there?” I could understand what had happened. “Just because I haven’t interrupted you,” I said, “you think I died.

IMG_0290Like Adler, the martini is straightforward and a little slick, sophisticated without any frills. Just like Speedboat, it is carefully constructed with no unnecessary additions. As cocktail culture continues to gain traction in cities throughout the U.S., you see more and more people ordering this classic drink. The trick to making a good one rests with three things: classic London-style gin, good dry vermouth and a proper twist of lemon.

  1. The gin: I, like everyone else, love some of these new gin’s that are cropping up, but something like Hendricks, while floral and lovely on ice or with tonic, adds a bit too much of its own flavor to a martini. It’s better to stick with something classic and clean, such as Beefeater.
  2. The vermouth: so I’m not recommending that you go and break the bank on vermouth, but given the construction of a martini, you’re definitely going to taste it, so I’d recommend stepping up from what you’re cooking with. Plus, when you use good vermouth, you can use less of it, getting you closer to the original recipe. A great option is Dolin’s Dry.
  3. The twist: Here’s the thing, those little corkscrew twists are cute and great and all, but they’re also sort of dry. To get a better expression of oil, you need a wider twist. Save your money on the fancy twist contraptions and just use a knife to carve yourself a swath of peel, and be sure to avoid the pith, which is bitter.

Gin Martini with a Twist

Makes one martini

2 ½ ounces Gin
1/4 ounce dry vermouth
Lemon peel

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add your gin and vermouth. Stir for about 20 seconds—this is not a time to listen to James Bond, about this he is stupid. Do not shake your martini. Set the shaker down for a minute to let a bit of water leech into the drink, then stir a bit more. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the lemon peel and drink immediately, making dry remarks about the dearth of interesting dinner party guests and the banality of contemporary art with a bit of self-mockery.

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