The Martinez is not quite what it appears. The drink, rumored to be the predecessor to the ubiquitous martini—with a very vague backstory where it was made on a whim for a stranger either from or heading to or in the town of Martinez—most likely began its life as a Manhattan riff with gin.
The Martinez shows up in an 1884 bar book by O.H. Byron as an offhanded Manhattan variation. Byron describes it as being: “Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky.” But the Manhattan looked a little different in those days, and there are two Manhattan recipes in that book—one with dry vermouth and the other with curaçao. In the third printing of famed bartender Jerry Thomas’s The Bar-Tender’s Guide in 1887, we get the Manhattan as one “wine glass” vermouth and one “pony rye whiskey with two dashes either “curacoa” (sic) or maraschino and Boker’s bitters—essentially what we’d call a “reverse Manhattan” today. On the following page, the Martinez is nearly identical, although made with maraschino, not curaçao, and with Old Tom gin in place of rye.
The Martinez many served in the aughts when the drink came back alongside other classic drinks during the Cocktail Revival was an equal parts sweet vermouth and gin cocktail—something of a middle ground between Jerry Thomas’s reverse Manhattan specs and contemporary expectations (today most other Manhattan-style drinks get a heavier pour of spirit than vermouth, sometimes by quite a margin). More or less this version of the Martinez—sweet vermouth, stirred with gin, maraschino, and bitters—is what you’ll still get at most cocktail bars today. It’s just slightly sweet, prickling with juniper and nutty maraschino, and it’s pretty great.
As the oldest Martinez was likely made with Old Tom, the American version of gin popular in the States during the 19th century, a lot of recipes specifically call for it. Old Tom was unavailable (and rather mysterious) for a long time, but today there are many good brands producing a version. Experts tend to agree that Old Tom was more rustic and sweeter than most gins on the market now, and so most modern versions reflect that style. Hayman’s is a favorite among craft bartenders, but in my opinion a solid London Dry gin also works great in a Martinez. Tanqueray is a favorite of mine, or better still, Tanqueray paired with a little Ransom Old Tom (Try one ounce of the former and a half ounce of the latter and see what you think.)
I love a reproduction of the classic Boker’s bitters in a Martinez, with its distinct cardamom flavor, but when I can’t get my hands on my favorite, Berg & Hauck or Bitter Truth’s version, going Angostura works just fine.
Combine 1½ oz. gin, 1½ oz. sweet vermouth, 1 tsp. maraschino liqueur, and 1 dash aromatic bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until thoroughly chilled, 30–45 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.