Drink of the week

Drink of the week: the Martinez at Sun Liquor

Sometimes the original recipe remains the best.

September 9, 2009

It’s a hot August afternoon on the hill, and Sun Liquor is packed with neighborhood folks looking to cool off in the air conditioning. There is just one open seat at the end of the bar. I take it.

To my left is a couple: tattoos. To my right are three friends—two men and a woman: tattoos. She wears a green flowered dress with spaghetti straps that partially cover her shoulder tats, but show off the bicep tats.

Eighteen years after the release of Nevermind, this grungy contrast of biker chick and little girl still feels more Seattle than the throwback look preferred by women who frequent reimagined speakeasies, sipping St Germain mixers from gleaming glassware amid out-of-context antique sewing machines and mallard ducks. Those girls come and go (to Los Angeles and San Francisco), taking their fedoras and their feathery flapper barrettes with them.

But the tattooed lady in a sundress stays. She sweats her way to the air conditioned bar where she orders whisky or a Rainier tallboy—never wondering if that comes off affected—and talks derailleurs and adjusting barrels with her bicycle-obsessed friends.

Erik Chapman is the bartender at Sun Liquor. He looks like a young Trey Anastasio: tall, lanky, and shaggy—like the kid in high school who smoked pot in the parking lot with the cool kids; they all loved him despite his Mystery Science Theater 3000 obsession and that 1480 he got on the SATs. He’s constantly moving, just this side of spazzy, and like his customers, half of whom he knows by name, he’s very familiar with derailleurs.

Sometimes when you’re talking with a bartender who takes his craft seriously, there is a discernable edge. You sense he feels he should be famous, but that it may not happen, and that makes him a little furious. Eric Chapman is not like this, but he is definitely a cocktail nerd, and he has ideas about martinis. Namely, he subscribes to the theory that the martini started out as the Martinez, a 19th century mixture that was originally created from Old Tom gin, a wine glass worth of sweet vermouth, and two dashes each of Boker’s bitters and maraschino liqueur.

Chapman makes me the Sun Liquor Martinez: Plymouth gin, sweet vermouth, Regan’s orange bitters, maraschino liqueur, and a twist. Any martini drinker who doesn’t like vermouth should try it—tempered with the bitters and maraschino, buoyed by the earthy Plymouth, the vermouth’s aromatics shine in a way that could definitely cause a conversion.

It’s not a guzzler, there is too much going on in a Martinez just to throw it down, but it has nothing to do with the flat, one-note drink we call a “dry martini” today. I’m not snotty about cocktails—have vodka in your martini if it pleases you, never try vermouth again if you had it and found it gross. But I, for one, prefer a Martinez. Sometimes the original recipe remains the best.

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