Hotel bars have long been a hotbed of creation for some of the world’s most prestigious classic cocktails, from the Tuxedo No. 2 to the Vieux Carré, Waldorf, Hanky Panky and the Singapore Sling. And while the original Martini’s origins are somewhat murky (though some theories point to the bar at The Knickerbocker Hotel) an updated variation from Dukes London that debuted in the 1980s has gained renown all its own.
Created by Salvatore Calabrese, who helmed the program at Dukes Bar at the time, the Dukes Martini is also known as the Direct Martini. Calabrese has said the drink originated with travel writer Stanton Delaplane (often credited with introducing the Irish Coffee to the U.S.), a patron of the bar who regularly requested a very dry, very cold Martini.
The key to the cocktail is its preparation. As drinks stirred long enough to reach the desired temperature were deemed too diluted for Delaplane’s tastes, and those stirred less were insufficiently cold enough, Calabrese eventually placed the gin and glassware in a freezer the night before. When it came time to serve his exceedingly particular customer once again, a small amount of vermouth was dashed into the frozen glass, and topped with ice-cold gin. Delaplane was later said to have called the drink “the best in the world.”
Though Calebrese eventually left Dukes in 1994, the Dukes Martini lived on and has become the stuff of legends, and has remained a fixture of a bar program now overseen by the current bar manager Alessandro Palazzi. Beyond its unique preparation, the Dukes Martini is known for its tableside presentation utilizing custom trolleys, and a generous serving that contains in excess of 4 ounces of frozen gin.
As the ice-cold temperature mutes much of the aromas of the gin in a Dukes Martini, a lemon twist is strongly recommended as garnish. Expressing the oils from the lemon peel over the top of the drink creates a more predominantly citrus nose than found on most standard Martinis.
4 ounces gin
1/4 ounce dry vermouth
Garnish: lemon twist
Store the gin in its bottle in a freezer overnight, along with serving glassware, until both are as cold as possible.
When ready to serve, pour chilled vermouth into the frozen glass, and swirl until the inside of the glass is coated.
Discard any vermouth remaining in the glass.
Pour gin directly into the glass.
Squeeze the lemon peel directly over the drink, allowing the oils to express and coat the top of the drink.
Rub the expressed lemon peel around the rim of the glass, then place in the drink to garnish.
What Makes a Dukes Martini Different?
The ice-cold preparation and lack of dilution from ice make for a cocktail with a much more viscous mouthfeel, almost milk-like in consistency. High-quality gin and vermouth are needed for an optimal Dukes Martini—to allow flavors to penetrate the dryer, higher-alcohol levels of the gin, and a vermouth with enough character to still come through in the minute amounts used in the drink.
How Much Vermouth Is in a Dukes Martini?
As one of the main selling points of the Dukes Martini is its stiffness, the drink uses a minimal amount of vermouth. Palazzi recommends to simply rinse the glass, or swirl a small amount of vermouth until it coats the interior of the glass before discarding any remaining liquid, then adding the gin directly, without stirring.