When the classic Brooklyn restaurant Gage & Tollner was recently resurrected by the team of Ben Schneider, Sohui Kim, and bar pro St. John Frizell, it was decided that its drink list would feature only cocktails that had appeared on the menu of the restaurant’s original incarnation. The team knew they wanted to focus on Martinis, covering many of the standard bases—vodka, gin, classic, dirty—and decided to throw in a variation not often seen on contemporary menus: the Perfect Martini.
Like the Perfect Manhattan, its name refers not (just) to the fact that it's a perfectly made Martini, but to its relatively uncommon recipe, which calls for splitting the vermouth: using both sweet and dry styles in equal, or "perfect," proportions.
The Gage & Tollner team has tweaked this formula to, well, perfection. Its version skews more vermouth-heavy than you might expect: Their drink is essentially a type of Reverse Martini, containing more vermouth than gin. And it calls for the unexpected addition of a bit of maraschino liqueur for a touch of nuanced sweetness. “For us, this little extra touch brightened the drink up; it made it distinct from the other Martinis on the list,” says Stephen Bielawski, who was the head bartender at Gage & Tollner before heading upstairs from the restaurant to helm the newly opened tropical bar Sunken Harbor Club.
The split bitters are another unique touch: The Gage & Tollner house bitters used in the drink are a 50-50 blend of Angostura aromatic bitters and Bogart’s Bitters from The Bitter Truth, said to have been reverse-engineered from a Jerry Thomas-era bottle. According to Bielawski, however, the cocktail will turn out just fine if you use either type of bitters on its own. The decision to make some of these very specific tweaks, or use, say, multiple ingredients when a single one would be perfectly adequate, came out of the pandemic, he says. “With the boom in at-home bartending over the long sequestering, I think it’s fun when a bar does something that you either can’t do at home or is too much of a pain.” For instance, the restaurant’s Manhattan employs six ingredients: two ryes, two sweet vermouths, and two types of bitters. “It really is over-the-top,” he admits. “These little touches are easy for us to do, but they give an extra layer to the drinks for people who are already used to the standard version.”
The Perfect Martini is a phenomenally food-friendly drink, ideal with the steaks and hearty old-fashioned seafood dishes the restaurant serves. That was intentional, according to Bielawski, who says that every cocktail on the menu was considered in terms of what dishes it would go well with—“Especially the Martinis; those are such excellent food cocktails,” he says. The Perfect Martini’s inclusion of sweet vermouth allows it to match with some dishes that other Martini variations can’t, because the extra flavor lets it stand up to some of the richer items. “I really think it goes with any of the more savory, steakhouse-y options on the menu,” says Bielawski. The cocktail is dry enough to be enjoyed as an appetite-whetting aperitif, while the touch of sweetness from the sweet vermouth and bit of maraschino makes it suitable for after the meal as well. “You can have it with really any course,” he says.
It’s a cocktail that has truly earned its name in multiple ways. “I love the name Perfect Martini,” says Bielawski. “Obviously, it comes from the use of both sweet and dry vermouth. But to me, it’s an actually perfect Martini, because it’s the most adaptable of the Martini family.”
- 1 1/2 ounces Beefeater gin
- 1 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
- 1 ounce Cocchi Torino sweet vermouth
- 1/2 teaspoon Luxardo maraschino liqueur
- 1 dash Gage & Tollner house bitters (an equal-parts mix of Angostura and The Bitter Truth Bogart’s bitters)
- Garnish: lemon twist
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.