personal project

How to Bartend for One

Animation: Stevie Remsberg; Source Video Getty

Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.

I miss the performance of a martini. The way a bartender or waiter brings it to you slowly, as though carrying a birthday cake. The way you pick up the glass and hold it with the tips of your fingers like it’s a Fabergé egg. And the drama of taking a sip — the eye contact you make as you do, and how it’s always, always sexy.

Of course I could make myself a martini at home. It’s really not that hard. But, for me, the ritual is half the fun of it — and the feeling of being taken care of. I like being told what to do in the kitchen, and I need someone to hold my hand when it comes to simple measurements. There’s a reason my phone autocorrects “marg” to “math.”

So I’ve been drinking a lot of wine. Not an unhealthy amount, but enough to want a change of pace. At the end of week five of self-isolation, I decided to call up my bartender friend Sammi Katz and get her to teach me how to make a professional-grade martini over Zoom. Sammi is the head bartender at Sweet Polly, a cocktail bar in Prospect Heights that closed on March 15 along with every other bar in New York. She also has her own blog, “A Girl’s Guide to Drinking Alone,” which I thought made her skills particularly apt for a moment like this.

Below, Sammi shares extremely detailed instructions for martini-making. If I can do it, so can you.

Measurement Conversions for Dummies

  • 0.5 ounce = 1 tablespoon
  • 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
  • Shot glasses vary in size but are typically 1.5 ounces or 3 tablespoons.
  • Ina Garten’s giant cosmo was 36 ounces of liquid, or 4.5 cups.

How to Make a “Bartender’s Martini”

Sammi’s favorite kind of martini is called a “50-50.” It’s half-vermouth, half-gin. That’s a little more vermouth than usual (and a little less gin), but “that means you can drink more of them because it’s lower proof,” she says. It’s also easier math. A win-win! At Sweet Polly, they have a 50-50 on tap. Sammi refers to it as a “bartender’s martini” because it’s more old-school and rarely ordered by those who don’t know a muddler from a jigger. “It’s a joke that if someone orders a 50-50 martini at a bar, the bartender will be like, ‘Yo, where do you work?,’” she explained.

Supplies you definitely need:

  • Dry vermouth (yes, there are two different kinds of vermouth)
  • Any kind of gin

Tip: Sammi says that with martinis specifically, “there’s nothing for the gin to hide behind,” so if you can, go for a nicer bottle. Also, it’s possible to make a martini with vodka, but Sammi says she would never use it for a 50-50.

Supplies that would be good but aren’t absolutely necessary:

  • Green olives
  • Olive juice, or “brine,” as they call it in the biz
  • A lemon peel if you don’t have an olive, or if you don’t like olives

Extremely detailed, professional instructions:

  1. Get a big glass or container for mixing. I used a pint glass.
  2. Sammi suggests you start with the cheaper ingredients first, in case you screw up. Here, that would be dry vermouth.
  3. Pour 1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons or one shot glass) of dry vermouth into your mixing glass.
  4. Add 1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons or one shot glass) of gin.
  5. Adjustment: If you like your martinis “dirty” or more olive-tasting, the measurements will be 0.5 ounces of dry vermouth, 0.5 ounces of olive brine, and 2 ounces of gin.
  6. Add a handful of ice to the mixture. “The point of adding ice is obviously to make it cold, but also to dilute it,” says Sammi. “Water is the secret ingredient in all cocktails.”
  7. Stir with whatever tall and thin object you have, like a chopstick or the handle of a spoon, hugging the side of the glass. A common mistake is that people mix martinis like they’re cleaning a paintbrush. “You don’t want air bubbles,” says Sammi.
  8. You know you’re done when you feel the side of the glass with the back of your hand and it’s cold. If you don’t know what “cold” feels like, stick your hand in a freezer.
  9. Strain the mixture into the most glamorous drinking glass you have, even if it’s Tupperware or a child’s sippy cup. Maybe go big, like Ina Garten.
  10. Throw some green olives in there, or stab one with a toothpick and lay it across the rim of your glass. If you don’t have (or like) olives, you can peel a lemon. Looks just as fancy!
  11. Martinis can be served with ice (“on the rocks”), but they’re typically served without (“up”). You’re in the privacy of your own home, so do whatever you want. But you should know that adding ice is weird.
  12. Cheers! If you are in the company of another human or a pet, look them in the eye as you raise your glass in order to avoid bad luck. If you are alone, consult a mirror like this guy.

After following these instructions, I once again had a martini in my hand. It didn’t exactly make me feel glamorous, but I was sure that I could get myself tastefully drunk in a pinch, and that was comforting.

To donate to Sweet Polly’s relief fund, click here. You can also buy a gift card for your next martini.

How to Bartend for One