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Friday, February 10, 2012

Gin soaked digressions (with a side of olives)

Some of my friends call me Sister Mary Martini. And they're right; I am religious about my martinis, a purist. My bar order: dry gin martini, up, olives on the side. By dry, I mean that, if the bartender wants to dab a little vermouth behind each ear, I don't mind. But that's as close as the vermouth bottle should come to the martini glass. I also want good gin, preferably Tanqueray 10. Some may prefer to drink martinis made with vodka if they like. It's up to them.

Gin. Or vodka.

Note: A martini does not contain crรจme de menthe. Or peach schnapps. Or melon liqueur or any other such component more traditionally found in the test kitchens of Godiva Chocolates, regardless of what upscale "martini bars" may list on their little dance-card-esque menus.

But I digress.

I was attracted to martinis early on. Like all good parents in the 1950s, mine drank martinis. (My father also prospected for uranium and brought it home, stored it under our beds and let us kids play with the Geiger counter. Tick. Tick. Tick. Ah! The 50s! Again, I digress.) With martinis came green olives, to which my siblings and I shared a dedicated addiction. Once a month or so, my parents used to take us all to the Belvedere, a supper club in our little town. On one occasion, the manager brought a big bowl of green olives to our table. Apparently some of us were going about and asking the other patrons if they planned on eating their olives. Not acceptable behavior. By the time I was in college, I could walk into any bar in Moscow, Idaho -- and there were a lot of them -- and the bartender would bring me a martini glass full of olives and a double shot of gin on the side. (The innocent olive, you understand, leads to the hard stuff.)

Gin Lane
 H.L. Mencken called the martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet. And E.B. White called it "the elixir of quietude." Gin did not always have such elegant connotations, however. Take a look this Hogarth etching, titled "Gin Lane." (I love this picture. It looks like some of my parties, although I trust no children have come to harm here.)

Beer Street
"Gin Lane" depicts eager traders as they present a saw and cooking utensils (instruments of their livelihood)s to the pawnbroker, an old man gnaws a bone as a wistful dog looks on, buildings decay and fall on hapless pedestrians. Dear, dear! Bad gin! (Hogarth contrasts the evils of gin to the healthy benefits of beer in a companion piece, "Beer Street." Gin, after all, was a foreign import.)

The evils of gin are illustrated in this cautionary verse, origins unknown but undoubtedly of more recent creation than Hogarth's work:

One martini's my limit --
Two at the very most!
For with three I'm under the table--
And four I'm under the host!

Well, we are all forewarned!

Here's one of mine, likewise cautionary:

Martini Girl

by Mary Chase

Born on the cusp
Between vodka and gin
Her mom was an olive
Her dad was a Finn

Old Mom walked on toothpicks
Her dad – not at all
(seemed like fate they’d conspired
to conceived at all)

When she was a toddler
She staggered and reeled
As a girl her aroma
Got her pitched out of school

Her elegant figure
Made a hit with the guys
(til they looked into
those bold pimento eyes)

One night she rambled
The streets full of grief
She encountered some rough boys
-- they all sought relief

They left just enough
For the coroner’s art
(and when he was finished
they pickled her heart).
A little dark, perhaps, but I like it just the same. Let me know if you think I should switch to beer.


  1. Mary, Mary--pimento eyes? :-) That's my girl.


  2. Maybe I just need new contacts :)

  3. Of course, there's also the "Auntie Mame" martini where the gin is put in the glass and you just whisper "vermouth" over the edge.

  4. :) One of my favorite childhood movies!