No, I'm not talking about the 19th century British service rifle. Maybe later, though.
Really, this is a poll. Scroll down to the last paragraph if you just want to answer that question.
I speak of that quintessential cocktail, which we the occasional drinkers generally have tried, but only some have liked.
The first martini that I ever thought to try was after my best friend Scott's wedding. Some of us who were in the wedding party went to a bar afterwards. As I was still in a tuxedo, I decided to try one. The bartender, a douchey frat boy, eagerly suggested that I try it "dirty." I was familiar with the concept, though not the results. After an exchange of too many dollars, I was handed a glass with so much olive brine poured into it that one of Scott's bartender friends thought that I had a margarita. It was undrinkable.
Over the years, friends [well, mostly Marko but others, too. (My liver needs new friends, maybe.)] had suggested that I give the drink a try again, and in its original format. I've never been a fan of gin, really. I've seen it as a case of vodka ruined with juniper berries. But then, the concept of vodka has always seemed silly to me, too: it's highest quality if you can't taste it?!? What the heck? If you're going to claim to enjoy a drink, rather than the buzz, then you need to taste the dang thing. Also, my memory told me that gin was the original. That the concept was for the vermouth (a sweet fortified wine) to have something bitter to work against. Kind of like how the best sugar cookies have some salt in them. If it's just vodka and vermouth and an olive, you're going to get a sweet drink with an olive in it.
So it was that I tried them again. I went out to have a drink with Scott, about 4 years ago. I ordered a standard martini from the bar. NO, I didn't want some special flavored liqueur in it. No, I most assuredly didn't want it "dirty." No, I wasn't asking for a "top shelf" martini. Just serve it as it comes, sir. I got two sips into it before realizing that it had no gin in it. I asked the bartender, who looked at me like I was a fool. "Yeah, it's a vodka martini. That's how we make 'em. You have to ask for gin," he told me.
I was astounded, but my best friend, who had worked his way through college as a head bartender at Bennigan's in College Station (and due to that being the location of Texas A&M University, that particular bar turned in the highest sales receipts of any Bennigan's bar in the country), assured me that this bartender was exactly right. "A martini comes with vodka. Not gin. That's how we made them, always," he said. Scott was pretty adamant about this. Maybe I was wrong? (I mean, it could happen, right?) Others pointed out that James Bond ordered a vodka martini, with the usual admonition about the method of concoction. I personally believe that it was Ian Fleming's character's love of the drink that caused the popularity of the vodka martini (a.k.a. "Kangaroo.") in the '60s and '70s..
I have sampled some martinis at some nice hotel bars and better lounges, and have found that the nicer the joint is, the more likely it will be presumed that you mean gin when you order one. Most bartenders take care of the issue by inquiring which liquor the patron desires in the cocktail. I have learned something: the fourth ingredient to a martini is cold. It should not be permitted to get above about 38 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have to put it into a freezer between sips, so be it. But the drink loses a lot of its charm at 45 degrees and higher. The place to play with the drink seems to be in the garnish. Spear once showed me how he made one once garnished with a pickled okra. Stingray reportedly makes a dynamite one with pickled hot pepper as garnish.
So on this last Friday night, after having seen a movie with Scott, we had a beer or two at a bar, and the old topic came up. He insisted that he's shown me in a bartender's guide that the martini should be prepared with vodka. I insisted that the correct classic fashion of preparation was with gin. We both agreed that the man-child behind the bar that we were at would be an inadequate reference source.
So I put it to you, dear readers: How should a classic martini be prepared? I'm not asking you how YOU like it. I'm just inquiring what ingredients should be presumed to be found in a martini glass when it is served you at a classic establishment.
Please respond in comments here.