Friday, March 23, 2012

A martini in a British pub? Impossible!

Beautiful! All the sorts of water this writer really loves...sea water, and fire water. (Wiki Commons)

A martini in a British pub? (Shirley, you jest...with my apologies to the late Leslie Nielsen.)

On some website someplace, I saw a reference the other day to ordering a martini in a British pub. It must have been a joke. There is no such thing as a martini in a British pub.

A British pub will give you a glasssmall, large or hugeof any sort of alcoholic beverage made from hops and/or barley and maybe wheat and most certainly apples and pears. Indeed, cider is an alcoholic drink in England, as is perry, the pear version thereof.

You can get virtually any sort of liquorScotch, Irish, Canadian, sometimes Bourbon, Gin, Vodka, Rumpoured into a small glass, with or without a tiny ice cube (or more if you really, really insist). It will be a measured shot, measured by the UK version of  “the revenooers” for the purpose of collecting Her Majesty’s taxes on your inebriation attempt.

The tax man ruins a good buzz
You can get a wide range of specialty liquors, too, such as the ever-popular Bailey’s, Amaretto, Chambord…that sort of thing. Whichever of that sort of thing you order will also be served in a small glass, neat, as a measured shot. Which isn’t, frankly, enough to wet a bird’s whistle. Considering the alcoholic content of virtually all of such libations is so low, they ought to pour customers a water-glass portion, or at least a good couple of shots. But that would never do, all booze having been created equal as far as the almighty British tax man is concerned.

Despite the odd servings decreed by the tax man, you can clearly order, drink and especially pay for inebriating spiritous liquors in a British pub.

Stemmed glasses: Martinis, manhattans, cosmos….
What you can’t do is get a martini. Or a manhattan. Or an old fashioned. Or a tom collins. Or a cosmopolitan. You might, just might, get a Cuba libre. But you’ll be scorned, by gad.

As for the martini, even if you order it in a restaurant owned by the maker of a very venerable brand of gin, Plymouth (beloved of the British Navy for its strength and bite), you will get some horrific concoction including white vermouth and what the British call lemonade, which is actually more like a bottle of Sprite gone bad. I know this for a fact.

It seems, you see, that just as the British call a vacuum a Hoover (“I’ve got to hoover the floors, since the dog made such a mess” and so on), so they call French vermouth martini, mainly because the most prevalent brand of French (that is, white) vermouth in the UK is made by a company calledta da!Martini!

No elegant booze in the hinterlands of England
There are, to be sure, grand and wonderful cocktail bars in London. There’s even a swell membership club in Soho (London Soho, not New York Soho) called Milk & Honey that has all sorts of bona fide cocktails on its menu, although they do not specify a classic martini. Still, I would bet they’d make it for a member. And you have to be a member to enjoy an elegant quaff in a stemmed glass.

There’s also a Trader Vic’s in London. It’s rumoured to serve a staid, older crowd, so I expect that, in addition to the paper-umbrella festooned drinks and those served in a monkey-faced glass, you could get a classic martini. And you don’t have to be a member.

A new and popular boozy haunt in London is Mark’s Bar. While customers polled like it, they only like it 3 stars’ worth; the professionals give it 5. I’ll go with the pros on that; the bar attracts a lot of tourist riffraff, and what do they know, so how can you trust their opinion? I’ll bet they’d even ask for a Caesar salad with Thousand Island dressing, as they often do in Key West, or so I was told by a Casa Marina waiter some years back.  Anyway, visit the website for one of the most beautiful photos of cocktails I’ve seen in a while. I’d have put it up, but it’s copyrighted. Sigh.

I don’t live anywhere near London. But when I visit, I stay at The New Cavendish Club, members only. It’s a perk of my membership in the Society of Authors. As another SofA member said to me one morning as we both stayed there, it’s about time writers got some perks!  It is, and The New Cavendish Club is a darn good one. It almost makes me glad I chose to become a writer. And do, please, pay attention to all my words. I did write almost. The New Cavendish Club bartender will make a classic martini if asked. Or you can have a glass of champagne, and if it has gone a wee bit flat for being opened the day before, they’ll just open another.

In Tavistock, the closest sizeable town to me, you can get a martini at The Terrace. I know. I had one. But that’s the only place I can think of, and possibly that’s true because it is a restaurant owned by a pub owner and he knows his way around booze, even if he won’t mix you a straight-up drink served ice-cold in a stemmed glass in the pub side of the building, only in the chi-chi restaurant side.

It’s OK by me, though. I'm taking a photographer friend there for a birthday lunch next week…and hoping to get her looped a little on martinis so she’ll offer to shoot my next book jacket for free.


Other articles about, and with recipes for, tasty drinkies, including blue drinks, blender drinks and disgusting drinks.

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