The first time you rode a bike, kissed, or went downtown by yourself. Or how about the first payday at your first real job?
These are universal ‘firsts’ to most North Americans.
But there are other firsts, too, and depending on what your interests become when you get older, they can be great dinner-party stories to tell to likeminded friends. For instance, I’ve been drinking martinis regularly for about 15 years now, but even as an adult it took some time to develop a taste for them, since they are, in essence, pure alcohol. With enough practice and a mature palate, however, they become sublime.
But my very first martini was way back in the mid-1980s, when I was still in high school. I’d been reading the original James Bond books (I worked in a library and the 1960s Raymond Hawkey covers were still around, and as an artsy kid they blew me away!) and, like all young men do while reading these, I began to fancy myself a sophisticate…no pizza slices before the multiplex movie at the mall for me, no sir, only beluga caviar and French art films! And martinis!
Luckily, there was a restaurant near my school that wasn’t too worried about losing their liquor license. So, one day, a few friends and I went over there and, in our best calm, adult voices, ordered drinks. I think my friends just ordered beer, but when the lovely young Greek waitress got to me (she was probably the owner’s daughter and all of about 22-years-old) I said “Vodka martini, please” but left out the “shaken, not stirred” part since I didn’t want it to seem like I was quoting from a book. I remember her look of bemusement and concern when she answered “Really, are you sure?” to which I answered back, indignant, “Of course, drink ‘em all the time.”
She left with our order and a little smile on her face, and boy-oh-boy, we 17-year-olds felt pretty freaking proud of ourselves, I can tell you.
When she plunked the very authentic-looking martini in front of me, she was smiling even more, and while this might be my memory playing tricks on me, I’m pretty sure she didn’t wander away very far…since she wanted to see my reaction after the first sip.
Well, it probably looked something like this.
I mean, it was like drinking GASOLINE. My eyes watered, my nose ran, and I could barely speak. I tried to hold it together, look cool, but I knew it wasn’t working when my buddies asked me if I was alright. “Yeah, sure,” I choked, “just went down the wrong pipe.” Yeah, and that pipe was my throat. I’m pretty sure I heard some muffled laughter coming from around the corner, too!
Scared straight, I did not return to Mr. Bond’s favourite libation until the swing dance craze of the mid-1990s, and, even then, I made them with bianco vermouth so there’d be some sweetness. After a few years, I was finally able to take those training wheels off and drink them with regular vermouth.
Oh, and being a purist, I switched to gin at that time, too, as a real martini is composed of gin, dry vermouth and a garnish of either an olive or lemon peel. That’s it. In fact, Bond’s choice of vodka over gin and his “shaken, not stirred” instruction has more to do with Ian Fleming’s desire for his character to be an iconoclast than a true reflection of what people were actually drinking in the 1950s and 60s; this piece says before Bond came along, vodka wasn’t even on the radar.
Which means, I guess, that that first drink I had wasn’t a real martini after all: Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one! Cheers!
Yours in coolness,
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