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Earl Grey MarTEAni at Pegu Club
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman Earl Grey MarTEAni at Pegu Club

The best cocktail bars for a martini in New York City 2012

The martini may be simple, but gin, vermouth and bitters is a timeless combination. Read on to discover our favorite cocktail bars for a martini in New York.

By Laura Shunk
The great 1920s satirist Dorothy Parker once quipped, “I like to have a martini, two at the very most; three, I’m under the table, four, I’m under my host!” We tend to agree that pacing is crucial in the enjoyment of a properly made cocktail—but if you’re working your way through our definitive guide to the best martinis in New York, you might find it difficult to hold back. Our list features archetypal and new-wave riffs on the classic gin cocktail, at some of the city’s most celebrated bars. Did we miss your favorite martini in New York? Join the chatter in the comments.

Henry Public

Bars Lounges Cobble Hill

Jazz emanates from the speakers at this neighborhood bar in Cobble Hill, where the menu pays homage to classic cocktails. The Henry’s Martini ($11) is made to exacting specifications: two parts Old Tom gin and one part vermouth, split between Dolin blanc and Dolin dry. Stirred with a dash of orange bitters and garnished with a lemon twist, the drink is smooth, voluptuous and refined; a shining example of exactly what this timeless nip should be.

Hotel Delmano

Bars Lounges Williamsburg

Martinis are packaged for groups at this buzzy Williamsburg lounge: equal parts Perry’s Tot Navy Strength gin and Dolin dry vermouth are combined in a bottle ($49) and chilled; the mixture is delivered to tables with rocks glasses (coupes are available upon request) and a plate of olives and lemon twists. If you’re flying solo—or if your fellow drinkers don’t favor gin—you can order the same drink as a single serving.



Bars Cocktail bars Williamsburg

The menu at this TONY favorite changes frequently, and while the list often features a stirred gin drink, martini lovers are better off asking one of the bartenders to dig into their repertoire and mix up something unique. Consider the off-menu Tuxedo Number Three ($11), built on the classic martini blueprint of peppery Beefeater, Dolin dry vermouth and orange bitters. A touch of absinthe and bitter maraschino liqueur tease out the gin’s herbal notes, and instead of a twist, a brandied cherry garnishes the silky drink.

Employees Only

Bars Cocktail bars West Village

Bartenders wear chef coats at this iconic West Village saloon, and they season their version of the classic martini with aromatics more commonly seen in the kitchen than behind the bar. The Provençale ($13.78) features lavender-infused Plymouth gin, dry vermouth steeped with herbs de Provence and a splash of the bittersweet orange liqueur Cointreau—a floral combination that’s equal parts savory, spicy and sweet.


Fort Defiance

Bars Cocktail bars Red Hook

Owner St. John Frizell credits London bartender Salvatore Calabrese for giving the Breakfast Martini ($10) at Fort Defiance its brunch-appropriate makeover. An opaque blend of Beefeater gin, Cointreau, lemon-and-orange marmalade, the cocktail is as tart, refreshing and citrusy as a cold glass of orange juice.

Death & Company

Bars Cocktail bars East Village

You’ll find a number of dead-on martini-inspired concoctions on the menu at this East Village cocktail lair. Our current favorite is the Joy Division ($13), which preserves the spirit of the classic while adapting it just enough to feel fresh. Served in an ice-cold coupe, the luxuriously soft tipple blends Old Tom gin, Dolin dry vermouth and Cointreau with a hit of absinthe that both enhances the gin’s peppery notes and softens the spirit’s sharp bite.


Saxon + Parole

Restaurants American East Village

This Bowery meatery offers a dry-martini service ($15) created especially for cocktail zealots concerned with keeping their tipples cold. A small, sparkling glass of Plymouth gin and Dolin dry vermouth arrives at your table with a refresher carafe kept on ice, so that the second half of your drink is as chilly as the first. The bar also gives you the luxury of choosing your own garnish, sending out a plate of accoutrements that includes a lemon twist, an olive and an onion.

Gin Palace

Bars Cocktail bars East Village

This shrine to gin fittingly pays its respects to the most iconic of the spirit’s drinks, offering four different versions of the martini. The classic nets you a two-to-one ratio of Beefeater (or your gin of choice) to Dolin dry vermouth. The dry version slashes the vermouth by half, and the extra-dry martini uses just a splash of the fortified wine. History buffs might opt instead for the Martinez; the rich blend of Old Tom gin, sweet and dry vermouths, Combier triple sec and orange bitters is the boozy ancestor of the drink we know now as a martini.


Peacock Alley

Restaurants American Midtown East

Order a martini in most hotel bars, and you’ll get three ounces of vodka or gin, shaken and poured in an up glass. Not at the Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria. Bartenders at this elegant lounge can stir a textbook-perfect martini ($18), an ice-cold and silky combination of Old Tom gin and Noilly Prat dry vermouth, garnished with your choice of twist or blue-cheese–stuffed olives. Or order the bar’s version of the Martinez ($18), which suffuses Old Tom gin and sweet and dry vermouths with a splash of maraschino liqueur.

Pegu Club

Bars Lounges Soho

Cocktail maven Audrey Saunders dreamed up the Earl Grey MarTEAni ($13) as an ode to Empire pleasures both genteel (afternoon tea) and bawdy (gin drinking). Inspired by a pisco sour and a Victorian recipe for “egg tea,” which replaced milk with egg white, Saunders combined the two ideas into one drink. She first infuses juniper-heavy Tanqueray gin with loose-leaf Earl Grey from In Pursuit of Tea. She shakes the tannic tincture with lemon juice and an egg white, resulting in a frothy Arnold Palmer–like concoction, laced with the tea’s fragrant bergamot. In a nod to teatime accoutrements, the balanced sipper is garnished with a lemon peel and a sparkling half rim of sugar.


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