Decades before a little cultural phenom called Sex and the City tainted its reputation as a drink for the ladies, the martini was a drink for the sophisticated gentleman. Before Sarah Jessica Parker and her leathery cronies started pushing the Cosmo on every thirty-something with HBO, author E. B. White, who wrote the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, praised the martini as “the elixir of quietude.” We get what he’s saying, without being exactly sure. Regardless, we can attest that a martini or two makes the story of a talking pig and spider more plausible.
According to the International Bartenders Association, the largest global organization of bartenders and host of the World Cocktail Competition, the perfect martini is made from a golden ratio of five parts gin to one part white vermouth. In North America, gin is often replaced by its less flavourful cousin, vodka. Today, for better or for worse, the martini has transcended gin and vermouth, and a huge number of variations on the classic recipe exist. The Cosmopolitan, made from a combination of triple sec, vodka and cranberry juice is only one such variation.
Torontonians looking to sample one of the world’s finest cocktails have no shortage of options. Though today’s martinis can sometimes be more sugar than sophistication, few things reward like a properly mixed cocktail with friends. So with that, here are the best midday spots to drink, drink, and be merry.
Utterly charming, this Iranian kabob house and vodka bar attempts to capture the culture of Iran before the Islamic revolution, which suggests that Iran was once a candidate for one of the most laid-back and relaxed nations on earth. Boasting a bar stocked with some of the world’s finest (and expensive) vodkas, Banu bartenders can mix up some delicious vodka-based martinis. Flavourful kabobs, salads and a little time spent at the shisha bar will render you positively comatose with relaxation. For the adventurous drinker, try a Vodka Sekanjebin, a tarragon and basil infused cocktail that purports to be the ultimate cure for a hot summer day. 777 Queen Street West, 416-777-2268.
Eat My Martini
With a name that could have only been coined after a few drinks, Eat My Martini is at ground-zero for good martinis in Toronto: College Street. Boasting a menu of over 130 martinis, this classy little lounge offers something to satisfy everyone’s taste. If the classic martini isn’t to your taste, no problem, try a Foxy Lady (vodka, melon liqueur, amaretto and cranberry juice) or a Chocolate Factory (vodka, crème de cacao, cream and chocolate and peanut butter syrup). Also offering a tasty menu of light meals, Eat My Martini was voted “Best Martini Bar” by NOW Magazine in 2008 and 2009. 648 College Street West, 416-516-2549.
Avenue at the Four Seasons
To be honest, I’ve been lucky enough to drink here once. However, I can promise that the bartenders and staff at the Avenue Lounge are utterly dedicated masters of the martini. Offering drinkers a magnificent view of Yorkville, Avenue is all about elegance and sophistication, making it the perfect backdrop for a classic martini. Make sure you save (and dress) up for an evening here. Food and drink can be pricey, but well worth the money if you managed to snag one of Avenue’s comfortable leather chairs. After a few martinis here you might just start to think you’re Sean Connery himself. 21 Avenue Road, 416-964- 0411.
Catering to the opera and theatre-going crowd, as well as the work-weary, Nota Bene was voted one of Toronto’s best new restaurants by Toronto Life. Clean and classy, Nota Bene has a bar stocked with a fabulous selection of gins and vodkas for the discerning martini drinker. Knock back one of Nota Bene’s excellently prepared classic gin or vodka martinis, or try something a little different and see if you can wrap your tastebuds around one of their fruit-infused martinis. Delicious. 180 Queen Street West, 416-977-6400.
Image courtesy of wickenden.