The True Martini at The Kimpton Gray Hotel’s Vol. 39 in Chicago (image: Marcin Cymmer)
Nora Charles: “I’ll be with you in two shakes of a cocktail.” Nick Charles: “Cocktail? Cocktail? Think I’ll try one of those things.” —The Thin Man (1934)
So goes the playful banter between husband-and-wife duo Nick and Nora Charles. Played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, the gumshoe and his clever socialite wife shake and swill Martinis throughout a six-part film series that’s as equal parts whodunnit, comedy and drama as it is gin, vermouth and bitters. Starting with The Thin Man in 1934, the pictures helped launch the era of screwball comedies and sleuthing on-screen spouses. And during the current cocktail renaissance, they’ve also helped make fashionable a deeper cousin of the coupe beloved by bartenders for its elegant (and spill-proof) design, the Nick & Nora glass.
Espita Mezcaleria’s La Llorona cocktail and head bartender Jesse Simpson
“Before Prohibition, there were lots of different kind of glasses, including V-shaped and flat-bottomed,” says David Wondrich, a Liquor.com advisory board member, the author of Imbibe!(TarcherPerigee, $27.50) and the senior drinks columnist at The Daily Beast. “The standard Martini glass may be an icon, but it’s crappy to drink from; it spills and tips easily.” Enter other options, like the coupe and what eventually became known as the Nick & Nora glass, which was debuted to the masses by Audrey Saunders in 2005 when she opened her pioneering New York cocktail bar Pegu Club.
Jess Lambert, the head bartender at Vol. 39 and Boleo at The Kimpton Gray Hotel in Chicago, admits she hasn’t seen any of the films but believes the glass “recalls a sense of elegance with a forbidden twist.” She uses them for stirred drinks served up, like the True Martini and the Financier, made with brown-butter-washed brandy, amaretto liqueur, sherry and amaro. Lambert says its simple clean lines are combined with a logistical benefit. “We can store double the amount of Nick & Nora glasses in our reach-in freezer than we could Martini glasses.”
Plain, silver-rimmed and gold-rimmed Nick & Nora glasses by Cocktail Kingdom (image: Scott Gordon Bleicher)
Megan Barnes, the beverage director at Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, D.C., is also a fan of the glasses’ smaller footprint, as well as how they convey the restaurant’s Oaxacan influence. “The beautiful lace design on the glass is reminiscent of an older Mexican woman’s shawl,” she says. Barnes employs delicately etched Nick & Nora glasses for the Estocada, a mezcalNegroni riff, and the Colibri, a raicilla-based take on the Hanky Panky.
“The Thin Man is still celebrated as the epitome of cocktail elegance,” says Iona Muir, the food and beverage director for Metropole at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati, which uses the movie’s inspired glassware in drinks like the Fire-Cide Chat, a bourbon-based sip with fire cider, Cardamaro (cardamom amaro) and cabernet sauvignon. “These are movies in which the main characters start drinking when they get out of bed in the morning and don’t stop till the case is solved several days later,” she says. Fair enough, but to Nick and Nora’s credit, Wondrich points out that glasses were a lot smaller back then (2 ounces or thereabouts).
The Dead Rabbit’s Resurrection Man, left, and Rabid Jabber cocktails (image: Brent Herrig)
Even in the film’s post-Prohibition era, though, the stemware’s diminutive size may have given off a false sense of moderation. “Since it was a smaller-size glass, they believed having three, four, five or six drinks was better than having the same in a larger one,” says Jillian Vose, the beverage director at The Dead Rabbit in New York City, who uses Nick & Nora glasses for stirred standard-size cocktails. “But in actuality, they’d just drink more of them.” (In one scene, after discovering Nick is six Martinis in, Nora instructs her server to line up five additional ones to catch up.)
Its design has evolved over the past 80 years, though, and today the glass has a capacity of around five ounces. How copious you prefer your libations, of course, is up to you.
The original version of this article mistakenly credited the debut of the Nick & Nora glass to Sasha Petraske and the original location of his bar Milk & Honey.