My email Inbox has been overflowing with epistles concerning my name. Approximately 50 percent of them are from other people who call themselves “Tom Collins.” They present irate demands that I stop using “their” name or else they will sue me, attack my Web site, find my residence and firebomb it, track me down like a dog and shoot me in the back, and so forth. Another 15 percent are from people whose last name is Collins, or are related to someone named Collins, requesting help in locating missing relatives or pressing claims that I am a long-lost relative and please send money, third cousin Tom, your fourth cousin Susie, 3, needs ten grand for a lifesaving operation. The remaining 35 percent generally say something like “Come on, now, you aren’t really named ‘Tom Collins’ are you? A tom collins is a bar drink made with gin, lemon juice, club soda and simple sugar syrup, garnished with a cherry or a citrus twist.”
To the first 50 percent, I say that anybody with the intelligence of a domestic house pet can distinguish between me and somebody else who calls themselves “Tom Collins,” because I have stated plenty of distinguishing attributes about myself in my blog postings. So, unless you are a consultant with an office on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, who lives in a 30 room house in Great Falls, Virginia, drives an imported sports car, has a Traulsen refrigerator in your kitchen and a basement floor covered with five-color Carrara marble parquet, who also happens to be named “Tom Collins,” please stop sending me emails complaining about my use of that name; because there’s no way anything smarter than a nanny goat could confuse the two of us in any conceivable manner which would materially affect your personal life, your reputation, your finances or your romantic involvements. And if nanny goats figure in your personal life, your reputation, your finances or your romantic involvements, I bet you wouldn’t want that to come out in court anyway.
To the next 15 percent, I say I am absolutely certain that I am not related to you, and, if you read this post further, you will see why I am so sure. Sorry about that, little Susie, but you will have to lean on some other person, to whom your parents are actually related, for that ten grand.
But in the interest of full disclosure, to the last 35 percent, I will admit that “Tom Collins” is not the name I was given by my parents, or, perhaps I should say, by my dear father. When I came into this world, I was christened “Tom Collins Martini.” My sister was christened “Rose Lotus Martini,” and my brother was christened “Rob Roy Martini.” Why? Well, guess what – my father, Giuseppe Pierluigi Martini, was a bartender, and a very influential one, because he invented what is commonly called a “martini” these days, back in the 1970’s, while tending bar at the Stuyvesant New Amsterdam Hotel on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Names were important to both my father and my grandfather, and for completely opposite reasons. My grandfather, who came from Naples with one of my four pairs of great-grandparents to the United States of America in 1903 at the age of six, had to go through Ellis Island, where he watched his father and my great-great-grandmother fail the public health inspection. The object of US immigration policy in those days was the provision of healthy, able-bodied men to toil endless, sweaty hours for a pittance in the burgeoning factories, mills and mines owned by the amoral robber barons who ran that ever-expanding and powerful land. Since the part about “healthy, able-bodied men,” at least, was common knowledge, even among those who traveled, as she had, in steerage, my great-grandmother was quick to realize the implications – there was no way the government of this fabled nation was going to let a single, illiterate peasant woman with a six year old child into the country. Because her husband exhibited obvious symptoms of advanced tuberculosis, she and her child would also be forced to return to The Boot, along with her mother in law, who also had what in those days was known as “severe consumption.” These circumstances were totally unacceptable to my great-grandmother, and she had four very good reasons. First, she knew that while, when they left Naples, her little family had been very poor, now having spent everything they had on a voyage to America, when they were returned, she, her husband and her child would be completely destitute, which, in Naples in 1903 was tantamount to a death sentence. Second, now that the American doctors had brought up consumption, she knew, from nothing more than country folk tradition, that continued exposure to that malady from her husband and her mother in law would eventually doom her and the child to contracting it. Thirdly, she was acutely aware that her mother in law hated her and made no secret of it; and my great-grandmother had, in fact, said daily prayers since her wedding night, beseeching the Virgin Mary, every saint she knew of, and all three parts of the Holy Trinity for a Divine intervention that would resolve the matter – so, given what had just happened, as far as she was concerned, her prayers had been answered, and it would be extremely rude to cast aside the hard-won largess of Heaven. Although she was not certain what consequences would ensue for those who were ungrateful for having their constant and sincere prayers answered, she presumed that they would be extremely dire. Last, but in her estimation, hardly least, she had been violently ill with motion sickness since the very moment she had boarded the ocean steamer that had brought them to New York harbor, and had, during a particularly turbulent storm in the mid-Atlantic, solemnly vowed to the Virgin Mary, all the saints she knew of and all three parts of the Holy Trinity that if Heaven would only just allow her to set foot on dry land in the State of New York, then, as a token of sincere faith and as an act of lifelong penitence in praise of Jesus Christ Our Savior, she would never, ever ride any form of water transportation again.
So the situation clearly called for quick thinking, something which my great-grandmother was, apparently, pretty damn good at. In a matter of minutes, she had convinced my grandfather’s uncle, his father’s younger brother, who, along with my great-grandmother and grandfather, had indeed passed the public health inspection, to claim that he was her husband.
When word of the plan reached my great-great-grandmother, she immediately denounced it, and started to make a fuss. At this point, my great-grandfather performed an act of incredible conviction and self-sacrifice – if he could not enter that shining, green valley of Canaan which rumor, newspaper story, steamship line flyers and letters back to Naples had promised, the least he could do would be to ensure that his only son got there. In a trice, he smacked his own mother in the face and commanded her to shut the hell up, which, for probably the first time in her life, she did. A quick switch of papers, and some fast talk, together with my dear great-grandmother’s angelic face and huge, doe-like eyes, were enough to convince the authorities, in the person of a callow and impressionable fellow quite new to his job, that yes, here was a completely guileless, simple country woman, far too passive and ignorant to concoct any lie so audacious and complicated. Here, obviously, was a rustic innocent, given short shrift by those imperious and disorganized Italian bureaucrats he had read about in Harper’s and the Saturday Evening Post; and, moreover, here was a chance for him to show her that America was a different place, a place of both justice and compassionate understanding. Thus my great-grandmother insisted, politely, demurely and at great length to the nice young Anglo Saxon immigration officer that my great-grandfather’s younger brother was her real husband, not what some idiot spingitoio di carta had put there on the documents in that mysterious thing called writing. If any of them could read, she explained, they would have noticed the discrepancy at the port offices in Naples and had it corrected; but since none of them could read, how could they have known that the wrong names had been recorded on their documents? Actually, both my great-grandfather and his younger brother could read, but they certainly weren’t about to show off their literary talents at that particular time. My great-grandmother’s reasoning seems to have made sense to the young immigration officer, for he accepted it at face value. So at last, it all came down to one final, gut-wrenching moment – a moment that shaped my grandfather’s world view and aspirations for the rest of his life. The handsome, blonde, blue-eyed man wearing a splendid uniform asked my grandfather “Quale di questi uomini e il vostro padre?” and my grandfather pointed to his uncle, who, truth be told, was, at the time, as much a virgin as Holy Mary and perhaps even more so. Thus, inside of an hour, my great-grandmother, her brother in law and my grandfather were allowed, by that fine fellow, to enter, as a “family,” the Golden Land of Opportunity, which, for them, turned out to be the streets of lower Manhattan. In order that the ruse which delivered them to that place continue successfully, my great-grand-uncle and great-grandmother lived as husband and wife for the next forty-eight years. And for sixty-two years after the day she stepped off the launch from Ellis Island and set foot on dry land in the State of New York, until she went to see Our Lady of Heaven, all those saints and all three parts of the Trinity, and finally got the opportunity to thank Them in person for answering her prayers, my great-grandmother never rode any form of water transportation, not even the Staten Island ferry.
The first twelve years of that serendipitous union spawned by tuberculosis and grim determination were spent raising my grandfather in a tenement on Kenmare Street in Little Italy along with the eight additional children my great-grandmother and her husband’s younger brother eventually produced before my grandfather left home to enlist in the Navy. There, he sat out World War I counting boxes of battleship replacement parts at a warehouse in New Jersey. Due to his early childhood trauma on Ellis Island and his upbringing as an impoverished gutter urchin, my grandfather worked very hard to assimilate and become a “real” American. So as soon as he turned 21, he changed his name from Costanso Pasquale Martini to Carl Peter Martin. Then he spent the rest of his life pretending to be a “real” American. When his enlistment ended, he worked nights and put himself through NYU, got a degree, found a job in advertising and moved to the Connecticut suburbs. The street smarts he developed growing up in New York served him well though, instilling in him a deep suspicion of any scheme which promised easy riches. Because of that, he escaped the ravages of the Great Depression – in October, 1929, aside from some cash in the local bank (which failed, by the way) that amounted only to enough for two month’s mortgage and bills, my grandfather’s entire savings and investment portfolio consisted of gold bars he had secretly buried in cement beneath the floor of his garage. So his home and his new wife were safe from the economic convulsions that, over the next decade, broke and killed millions who were not so circumspect about their investments and expectations.
Thus insulated from the Depression and well ensconced, when the children started arriving in the early 1930’s, he named my father Joseph Peter Martin. Never once did he say anything to Joe about Italy or his Italian heritage. Only the best quality English was spoken at the Martin home and Columbus Day was just another day off work, with no more significance than St. Patrick’s day, except, of course, that St. Patrick’s day wasn’t an official holiday.
So Joe Martin went to Brown and got a job at General Dynamics as a mechanical engineer, and it wasn’t until 1969, when his father had a stroke, that the truth came out. Yeah, there was my grandfather, lying in a hospital bed, delirious, and raving in Italian, which Joe had never, ever heard him speak, talking to people who were already dead, people who walked the streets of Little Italy the year the Titanic sank. It was then that my dad asked my grandmother some serious questions and found out what my grandfather Carl had kept hidden for so many years. Immediately, certain things that had always puzzled Joe became clear – why the family drank wine instead of beer, why there was pasta at every lunch and dinner, why they were Catholics while every other family in the neighborhood was Protestant, and why all three of his sisters had moustaches, were ridiculously buxom, and had gotten fat as soon as they were married.
This revelation had an exactly opposite effect on my father. The very next day, he decided to become as ethnic an Italian as he could possibly be. He did some research and found out what my grandfather’s Italian family name had been, and then changed his last name back to that, choosing two other, blatantly Italian names to go with it. He quit his job with General Dynamics and moved to Manhattan, where he pursued his romanticized ideal of an Italian’s career – as a bartender at the swankiest hotel he could find. That turned out to be the Stuyvesant New Amsterdam Hotel, on 5th Avenue, a street whose name is synonymous with class and posh living, where my father tended a huge, shining bar made of oak, teak, mahogany and ebony, trimmed with glistening brass, glittering lead crystal chandeliers and etherial Tiffany shade lamps, which stood next to a towering, balconied bay window looking out over the treetops of Central Park. And when he got married – to a six foot tall, redheaded, green-eyed Northern Italian who worked as a concierge at the hotel – and we kids came along, you bet your bottom dollar that Columbus Day was the most important date on the calendar. Not a single Columbus Day parade did I miss until I graduated from high school and went off to college. And, of course, I was raised in Little Italy, but not in any tenement. Dad had a tidy fortune from his days at General Dynamics, the sale of his house in Connecticut, and his share of my grandfather’s estate, which included five one-pound gold ingots from the garage floor. On top of that, he was absolutely fantastic at bartending. So we lived in a penthouse overlooking Mulberry Street, and none of us kids every wanted for anything, except, perhaps, a sane father.
I say that because Dad had to be a bit eccentric, at least, to name his kids after three of his cocktail recipes. But he was proud of his creations, and after all, we kids were his creations, too, his special cocktails – mixed, shaken and stirred in Mom’s womb; or at least that’s how he put it. I told you he was crazy. But crazy in a good way, to be sure. All geniuses are a bit nuts, as everyone knows, and, as anybody who is serious about cocktails would have to admit, the man was a genius who changed the world of mixed drinks forever.
Before Dad became a bartender, the “martini” was a single species of cocktail, made with nine parts gin and one part dry vermouth, and, sorry Mr. Bond, it was stirred, not shaken, with ice, then strained into a glass specific to its particular service, and garnished with a Spanish olive stuffed with pimento. Then there was the vodka martini, for “the ladies” and also for guys like Mr. Bond who were to fey to drink gin. And there were some variant breeds of the gin or vodka martini, too. There was the “wet,” which meant heavier on the dry vermouth, lighter on the gin, there was the “dirty,” which meant to include some of the olive brine in the mix, there was the “twist,” which meant to substitute a piece of bruised lemon peel for the olive, and there was the “Greek,” which meant to use a Kalamata olive instead of Spanish. And yes, a wise guy would sometimes come into Dad’s bar and order a “dirty twisted Greek,” usually in close temporal proximity to ordering a “long sloe screw up against the wall,” trying to pick up an escorted woman, starting a fight about it and being abruptly shown out by the hotel’s towering, massive and immaculately tuxedoed bar bouncers. But that was the entire universe of martinis – if you went past 50 percent dry vermouth, you had to put a pickled pearl onion in it. That cocktail was no longer a martini. Made with vodka or gin, the rules were clear – that cocktail was a gibson.
What Dad did was to evolve the martini from a species to an entire genus, or even, some might say, a clade. The only thing his martinis had in common was ice, the glass and the container they were mixed in. His accomplishments were a perfect example of thinking outside the box. Suddenly, just because he said so – and being named “Martini” and being the head bartender at the Stuyvesant New Amsterdam Hotel made that possible – anything could go into a martini, as long as it was mixed over ice in a cocktail shaker, poured out into a shallow, V-shaped, high stemmed glass, and tasted excellent.
Next time you are in a decent bar, take a look at the variety of beverages available. Then realize that one of my Dad’s martinis could contain up to seven different distilled liquors as ingredients – the basic elements such as gin, scotch, bourbon, rye, tequila, vodka (in all of its flavors), rum, and traditional straight brandies (such as Cognac or Armagnac); these, along with zero to five of eleven fortified wines, including dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, port, sherry and Madeira; to which were added zero to nine liqueurs, such as Chartreuse, Frangelico or Galliano, and zero to six of thirty cocktail mixers, such as sour syrup, various fruit juices, Angostura bitters, maraschino cherries, carbonated quinine tonic, Coco Lopez, half-and-half or Clamato. It’s a three hundred page word problem in combinatorial mathematics with nonlinear sensory response solutions, that’s what it is. And in his den at home, Dad had the walls covered with charts, diagrams, and lists of flavor ingredients. There was a blackboard where he’d calculate mixing proportions using matrix algebra, solving ten and twenty dimensional reduced exponential systems using Laplace transforms and determinants; and this was the 1970’s, so he did it all by hand with a slide rule, an electric adding machine and a table of logarithms. He had a collection of over a thousand tiny vials containing liquor samples, which he would use for reference by smelling them, as would a perfume designer working on his latest fragrance. “Every great martini is an eigenvector,” he would say, “and the larger its eigenvalue, the greater the experience of drinking it.” Has there ever been another bartender who approached his craft at that level? Will there ever be another? Scarcely a day went by that he didn’t produce several new candidate recipes, which he rigorously tested that night at the bar.
In order to maintain his objectivity, not to mention his sobriety, Dad didn’t test new ideas on himself. Instead, he made free cocktails for a group of special regular patrons, the ones he called “the tasting college.” He kept its membership strictly secret, but alluded to the fact that it included a number of famous people – writers, poets, symphony conductors, artists, scientists, fashion moguls, actors, Broadway producers, statesmen and captains of industry. Considering where he worked, it wasn’t hard to believe. Only those recipes that got rave reviews from a majority of the tasting college were offered to the public. He could have copyrighted those recipes, but he refused to do so. After the first year, Dad knew that many of his customers were bartenders themselves, the bartenders who worked at the 21 Club, Studio 54, the Copacabana, Elaine’s, the Village Vanguard, and, of course, the bartenders from other upscale Manhattan hotels. They would order Dad’s martinis and then watch him like hawks as he mixed his creations, but he never did anything to conceal what he was doing. “Se il mondo deve assagiare le mie creazioni, non posso nascondere la mia candela sotto un cestino,” he would say, proudly using the Italian he had studied for years with the best instructors New York City had to offer, and perfected with annual pilgrimages to the Old Country on his vacations.
So today, thanks to Dad’s unfettered inventiveness and unparalleled generosity with his intellectual property, the martini is no longer a gin or plain vodka cocktail with a few minor variations. Today, the new martinis are everywhere, in countless restaurants, bars, bistros and nightclubs. Today, the MySQL databases at legions of Web sites and the bindings of innumerable books are bursting at the seams with martini recipes. Today, martinis use all the distilled spirits known to man, they embrace the full spectrum of straight and flavored brandies, including fruit brandies such as Kirschwasser, and employ every liqueur from Amaretto to Zia Nunziella. Dry vermouth has been joined not only by sweet vermouth, but also by every conceivable sort of fortified wine, including ports, sherries and Madieras, as well as Japanese, Korean and Chinese fruit wines. Today, the additional martini ingredients, which once comprised a small constellation of two types of olives and a citrus rind, have expanded to a veritable galaxy. Today, there are martinis which are made with: apples, apple juice, pears, pear juice, maraschino cherries, black cherries, Bing cherries, yellow cherries, cherry juice, white peaches, yellow peaches, peach nectar, purple plums, green plums, plum juice, apricots, apricot nectar, pumpkins, papayas, blackberries, blackberry juice, red raspberries, gold raspberries, raspberry juice, strawberries, strawberry juice, wild strawberries, blueberries, red currants, black currants, lingonberries, loganberries, Chinese gooseberries, huckleberries, paw-paws, Japanese persimmons, wild American persimmons, roses, lilacs, tamarinds, gardenias, guavas, dark caramel, light caramel, mangoes, nougat, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, vanilla extract, vanilla beans, vanilla flowers, raisins, grains of paradise, asparagus, artichokes, rampions, fern fiddleheads, pineapples, pineapple juice, hazelnuts, passion fruit, licorice, anise, sweet almonds, bitter almonds, smoked almonds, roasted almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, cashews, pine nuts, breadfruit, wild mushrooms, morels, black Perigord truffles, Thai coffee, mocha coffee, espresso coffee, Swiss cheese, Roquefort cheese, Gouda cheese, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, acorn squash, anchovies, butternut squash, celery, broccoli, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, roasted red bell peppers, mulberry leaves, betony, sorrel, eucalyptus, sauerkraut, chai tea, black tea, green tea, oolong tea, yerba mate, lavender, hibiscus, lemon grass, cinchona bark, bacon, deep fried pork rinds, chamomile, fried zucchinis, menthol, wheat grass juice, oat grass juice, buttered popcorn, carrot juice, kohlrabi juice, lotus flowers, lotus seeds, rutabaga juice, turnip juice, miniature purple champagne grapes, grape jelly, bourbon barrel charcoal shards, fresh figs, dried figs, fresh fig juice, Spanish olives, Kalamata olives, Ascolano olives, manzanillo olives, mission olives, Gordal olives, picholine olives, rubra olives, Sevillano olives, Barouni olives, nicoise olives, Moroccan oil cured olives; olives with pimento stuffing, sheep feta cheese stuffing, chevre cheese stuffing, marzipan stuffing, cream cheese stuffing, smoked cod liver stuffing and pickled schmaltz stuffing; chorella, spirulina, peanut butter, bamboo juice, ginseng, acidulate carambola, sweet carambola, marigold petals, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, full wax honeycomb, mesquite smoke water, black beans, lemons, lemon juice, lemon leaves, lemon flowers, bilberries, limes, lime leaves, lime juice, lime flowers, blackberry flowers, blackberry leaves, raspberry leaves, Valencia oranges, navel oranges, blood oranges, bergamot oranges, orange juice, tangerines, tangerine juice, tangerine flowers, orange flowers, white grapefruits, pink grapefruits, grapefruit juice, grapefruit flowers, kumquats, mimosa blossoms, orchids, poppy seeds, poppy flowers, spearmint, peppermint, wintergreen, quince juice, boiled baby sunflowers, kummel, fennel, tansy oil, tarragon, allspice, bay leaves, thyme, dill, cardamom, smoked ham, prosciutto, milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, yogurt, kefir, soy milk, liquefied soft tofu, rosemary, cucumbers, parsnips, burdock, half-sour pickles, clove, jasmine, ginger, ginger ale, ginger beer, nasturtium flowers, marshmallows, hawthorne berries, mullein, nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon, tumeric, fenugreek, linden flowers, canteloupes, green melons, honeydew melons, muskmelons, casaba melons, watermelons, watermelon juice, winter melons, horned melons, Medjool dates, white pepper, green pepper, black pepper, myrrh, sarsparilla, cranberries, cranberry juice, juniper berries, kola nuts, lupins, cat-o-nine-tail fruits, milk thistle juice, blessed thistle, Scottish thistle flowers, milkweed seeds, aspic, yellow dock, hydrangea, sugar cane, molasses, sucrose, fructose, maltose, galactose, glucose, ribose, Chipotle peppers, capers, cilantro, parsley, sage, papayas, garlic, garlic flowers, onions, onion flowers, shallots, endives, leeks, leek flowers, chives, red tomatoes, fresh green tomatoes, pickled green tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, tomato juice, bananas, butterscotch, plantains, angelica, pomegranates, lemon verbena, coconuts, celery seed, jalapenos, prickly pear cactus fruits, agave juice, century plant juice, volcanic ash, guarana, acai palm drupes, acai juice, goji berries, goji juice, mangosteen fruits, mangosteen juice, noni fruits, noni juice, gentian, Buddha’s hand citron slices, saffron, lovage, coriander, annatto, butterbur, clover juice, coltsfoot, buckthorn juice, clover, clover sprouts, Cayenne peppers, cubebs, evening primrose flowers, miniature pickled eggplants, paprika, fresh oyster juice, fresh clam juice, boiled mussel juice, boiled scallop juice, prepared abalone juice, macerated Caspian sturgeon caviar, powdered mustard, yarrow, red radishes, white radishes, white horseradish, green horseradish, daikon, radish sprouts, horseradish sprouts, diakon sprouts, flax seed sprouts, wheat sprouts, mung bean sprouts, elemental gold, macerated smoked salmon, macerated sea urchin gonads, baked shad roe, smelt roe, salmon roe, mackerel roe, Philippine termite paste, seaweed in six varieties, whole raw eggs, raw egg yolks, raw egg whites, whole raw quail eggs, whole raw duck eggs, raw duck egg yolks, raw duck egg whites, Chinese hundred-year-old eggs, whole raw alligator eggs, habanero sauce, Angostura bitters, Tabasco sauce, barbecue sauce, Vietnamese fish sauce, quinine tonic, quinine powder, valerian root, asafetida, passion flower, juice of boiled inkberry leaves; and, for the truly daring among us – sea water, pine boughs, angostura bark, comfrey, borage, pennyroyal, kava-kava, mayapple flowers, chapparal, flower of sweet everlasting, bajiaolian, wisteria, kanna, hyssop, unicorn root, woad, Oaxacan Mixtec puffball mushroom spores, Central Amazonian Indian fig powder, sweet flag, Columbian virola, masha-hari, jurema, parica, yopo, vilca sebil, genista, coralillo, colorines, piule, caapi bark, shanshi, sinicuichi, San Pedro cactus juice, salvia, taglli, taique, keule, borrachero de los brujos, toloache, yohimbe, macerated wild-caught fugu blowfish, wormwood, edelweiss, mandrake root and tiny drops of purified capscacin right out of a bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label. Yes, today, you can taste the genius of Giuseppe Pierluigi Martini the world over; and also, I am sad to say, likewise experience the faltering attempts of his myriad imitators.
Because you can tell the difference, when you drink a “martini nouveau.” Some of them look good on paper, there on the exotic cocktail menu next to the house version of a mai tai, but when you drink them, well, that’s another story – at worst they are terrible and at best they don’t quite work. When that happens, dear reader, know that your martini is made from a recipe concocted by somebody who hopped on the bandwagon long after my dad got it rolling – somebody who tried, but failed. That was a martini made by somebody who thinks of bartending as slinging beers, juggling liquor bottles and pouring rail rum-and-Cokes for rooms full of nobodies; somebody who never heard of the scientific method and eigenvector solutions; somebody who thinks bartending is a job, not a master’s craft, a jamoke with a tin nose and a sandpaper palate; somebody with an unsteady hand and an eye bleary from drinking his mistakes. That’s why that guy’s martinis don’t work, even though his recipe looks like they should. The world, now awash in martinis, is filled with bartenders like him, inept fumblers with martini recipes that my dad would never have even considered taking down to the bar for the tasting college to review. And people drink those awful, inadequate, disappointing martinis, because they just simply don’t know any better. It’s so sad, when they could experience the genuine article, but Dad knew that copyrighting his recipes would do nothing to stop untalented fools from throwing stuff at random into a cocktail shaker until what came out seemed to taste different, if not particularly good, and calling the result a martini.
When the first wrecking ball hit the wall of the Stuyvesant New Amsterdam Hotel, Dad cried. I know, because I was there. The whole family was there, watching them knock down the connoisseur’s shrine he had founded, the cocktail edifice he had built, his Temple Of The Martini. We all cried. He never worked as a bartender again, not that he would have needed to – during his last two decades at the hotel, his annual tips climbed well into high six figures; and though he had started out charging only a thousand dollars to cater a party at first, he raised prices to avoid being overbooked, eventually reaching a fee of eighteen thousand and still catering over one hundred well-heeled parties a year. Having my dad tend bar for your New Year’s bash was the ultimate status symbol in some circles, and for the last fifteen years of his career, Dad never got less than forty grand for a gig mixing martinis to stoke wealthy celebrant’s jubilant pipes for a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. But after they tore down that hotel, the hotel with “his” bar in it – I guess he felt that working anywhere else would be anticlimactic. So he and Mom started traveling a lot, especially in Europe, which they had visited so often on vacation while he was working. And when he was at home, in his Little Italy penthouse on Mulberry Street, every day at six in the evening, my dad, the mechanical engineer from Connecticut who had re-created himself as his own idea of the apotheosis of the ethnic New York Italian; this retired bartender extraordinary would take the ultimate busman’s holiday – he would go into to the den and mix a martini from an entirely new, innovative recipe, just for himself. Then he would take it out into the living room, and sit on the couch, slowly sipping the drink, contemplating it like an old diamond cutter savoring another perfect gem, surrounded by photographs of the world’s rich and famous – some shaking Dad’s hand, some head shots with florid autographs and messages of benediction and luck, and some, his favorites, of a movie star, president, tycoon, great artist or acclaimed author hoisting aloft one of Dad’s martinis, beaming a great, broad and unaffected smile. Cheers!