Fiercely cold and reassuringly potent.
Photo: Bobby Doherty
It’s time to declare the best classic martini in New York. Nothing “dirty,” nothing too dry or too vermouth-heavy, and definitely nothing made with vodka. This is about the most balanced, most bracing, most perfect drinks in New York. Here’s where to find them.
The Absolute Best
1. Angel’s Share
8 Stuyvesant St., 2nd fl, at 9th St.; 212-777-5415
A great martini has presence. There’s a certain degree of ceremony that telegraphs the care given to the drink. At this two-decade-old second-floor Japanese bar in the East Village, the ceremony begins with the presentation of a perfectly frosted glass. It sits empty for a little longer than you think it should. You anticipate. The gin is Boodles by default, kept in the freezer, so it dilutes less when stirred with ice. When the bartender pours the drink, it is as thick and clear as melted glass. Order it with a twist. A sliver of lemon peel is misted into the air; the oil gently drapes over the drink’s surface. The peel is then discarded, instead of plopped into the drink, so it won’t disrupt the stillness. You can ask for a tiny glass of olives on the side. When the check comes, another surprise: The best martinis in New York are $14 each, making them some of the more affordable drinks available on the island of Manhattan. Reason enough to return soon.
2. Pegu Club
77 W. Houston St., 2nd fl, nr. West Broadway; 212-473-7348
At several bars around town, you’ll find martinis served in a style made famous by bartending icon Dale DeGroff: About half of the drink is served in a chilled glass that’s a little smaller than you’d expect. The rest is poured into a separate little carafe nestled in a bed of crushed ice. You see it at spots like Bar Goto, Clover Club, and Tooker Alley — all bars run by disciples or onetime partners of Audrey Saunders (herself a disciple of DeGroff). Yet the version served at Saunders’s own Houston Street bar remains the gold standard, expertly stirred and deftly poured to minimize aeration. It’s also system-shockingly strong, and the little iced sidecar of bonus martini ensures the final sip is as formidable, and luxuriously cold, as the first.
3. Keens Steakhouse
72 W. 36th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-947-3636
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that many storied midtown martini haunts have seen better days. Drinks hover around $20 each, yet the cocktails lack signs of the kind of care and attention that’s given at newer establishments. Thankfully, the bar staff at Keens — the chophouse that’s more than a century old and predates the actual existence of the dry martini — makes a crisp, classic drink that’s essentially the Platonic ideal, served in a setting that’s as ideal for drinking as any in New York. Do it right and order it at the actual cocktail bar (and avoid this place right after work, when the small barroom will be slammed).
4. Slowly Shirley
121 W. 10th St., nr. Greenwich Ave.; 212-243-2827
The price of the F.A.F. Martini served at this bar underneath the Happiest Hour borders on the offensive: $30. (The initials, in case you couldn’t guess, stand for “fancy as fuck.”) The high price is ostensibly due to the gin: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve, a limited offering that’s briefly aged in oak, making the spirit gentler and, surprisingly, kind of saffron-tinted. The price alone would warrant leaving this off the list entirely, but this also happens to be one of the smoothest martinis in town, well balanced with strong floral notes and served in the DeGroff style with a little extra carafe on the side. Still too expensive, but it works.