Noël Coward once said that “a perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. It’s a spartan – and very boozy – take on the classic cocktail, but it’s certainly a lot more faithful than many of the versions hitting bar tops across the country right now. Wet, dry, dirty: Australia is in the full throes of a Martini love affair.
“Martinis are absolutely having a moment – they’ve been pretty consistently growing year on year,” says Rocky Hair, operations manager at Mucho Group, whose venues include Bar Planet – Sydney’s smash hit bar dedicated solely to Martinis. “We’re in this kind of ’90s and 2000s renaissance era right now, and I think Martinis – from classical ones to mixed Martinis like Pornstar and Espresso Martinis – are very much a part of that.”
According to Hayden Lambert, owner and bartender of acclaimed Melbourne cocktail joint Above Board, the uptick in Martinis could be down to the fact that more bars are serving them properly.
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“We’re just making Martinis better now,” he says. “The delivery of Martinis was always too warm and too big – the hardest thing to drink is warm gin – and I think people have accounted for the fact that it needs to be cold and drunk quickly – that’s translated, and now a lot of bars have a better format for serving Martinis.”
Now that the drink consistently tastes better, more people are boarding the Bond train. “The Negroni fad’s kind of dropped off and Martinis have taken its place for sure,” Lambert says. “Now the predominant gin drink is the Martini.”
A classic Martini follows a straightforward format. “There’s a skeleton,” Hair says. “Classic Martinis are going to be gin or vodka with [vermouth and] your choice of pickle, basically –your olive, your lemon peel.”
It must always be served in an ice-cold glass. But with the rise of vodka drinks came the era of flavoured Martinis, such as lychee and espresso numbers. “People wanted to be able to drink a Martini without just drinking straight booze.”
But when does a Martini stop being a Martini? When is it just a cosplaying cocktail, piggybacking off a recognisable name? “This is a contentious question,” Hair says. “And people might disagree with me, but as soon as a Martini is mixed with any kind of fruit juice that isn’t booze, it’s not a Martini, it’s just a cocktail.”
“An actual Martini is just gin and vermouth – that’s it,” says Lambert. “I think a lot of ones like Espresso Martinis are defined like that because they come in a classic V-shaped Martini glass. Just because you add a prefix to the word Martini doesn’t make it a Martini.”
Bar Planet does Martinis every which way, but it still has a clear bestseller. “It’s the Dirty Gin Martini, 100 per cent,” Hair says. “It probably sells three to one on any other Martini that we do at the moment.”
At Above Board, the house Martini with two shots of gin, a dash of vermouth and orange bitters with a lemon twist, is also getting a lot of play. And many of its signatures start with the base template of a Martini. “A Manhattan is technically a Rye Martini, and you see the Martinez floating around a lot too,” says Lambert. “There’s just a whole bunch of variations on Martinis out there.”
We’ve rounded up 22 of the best places to enjoy Martinis – and Martini-adjacent drinks – around Australia.
Gimlet and Apollo Inn, Melbourne
Although it’s named after another famous gin cocktail, Gimlet’s finest drink might just be the Cavendish House Martini. It combines a double shot of Tanqueray with a house blend of vermouth and orange bitters. Served with a selection of olives.
Above Board, Collingwood
If you don’t feel like the house Martini, give the Rock Solid a go. There’s a lot of gin, and vermouth gets swapped out for umeshu – a low ABV Japanese plum wine – twisted with a couple of Italian bitters.
If you’re a Martini fan, try out the Alembic Essence at Jayda, the latest bar from Maha’s Shane Delia. Gin and dry vermouth is bolstered by orange blossom and arrack.
Nick and Nora’s, Melbourne
This Speakeasy Group favourite has five takes on the Martini, but the Mista Asta and the Asa Akira are the most unique. The former brings together vodka, aquavit, olive oil, clarified tomato water and sun-dried tomato oil, while the latter teams Plymouth gin with puffed rice sake and melon brine for a Japanese-inspired take on a Dirty Martini.
Stunning new CBD Korean diner Funda also does knockout cocktails. The Funda Martini features pickled kombu-infused gin, white miso amontillado sherry and kimchi oils.
Bar Planet, Newtown
Get a Martini made with Bar Planet’s renowned “infinite spirit”. The team uses a solera system, constantly topping up a batch of ever-changing local gin, vodka and sometimes pinot grigio. Much like a sourdough mother starter, it changes and evolves with time – your Martini will always taste a little different.
The cocktail boffins at cocktail lab PS40 always knock it out of the park. Although the menu changes constantly, be sure to ask politely for an INXS – a red-hot take on the Pornstar Martini.
Smoke Bar, Barangaroo
Don’t knock a Chicken Salt Martini till you try it, we say. This highlight from the new cocktail menu combines Four Pillars’ Olive Leaf Gin with a house-made chicken salt sherry and rice syrup, garnished with a deep-fried potato twill.
Vermuteria, Kings Cross
It stands to reason that a bar dedicated to vermouth might have a thing or two to say about Martinis. There are five to try here, but we’ll be making a beeline for the Smoked Martini: dry gin, Laphroaig Scotch whisky, dry vermouth and smoked salmon roe.
Maybe Sammy, The Rocks
There are too many good ways to have a Martini at this institution. You can try the half-sized Mini Chamomile Martini with gin, vermouth, chamomile and cedarwood (there’s also a mini version of the classic). Or push the boat out with a Martini trolley featuring Sipsmith gin, passionfruit pulp, vermouth, tomato shrub, orange bitters and tomato perfume.
Dr Gimlette, Brisbane
At this follow-up to the hugely successful Death & Taxes, you’ll find two roving Martini carts wheeling around the venue. Hail one down, and you can get a bespoke Martini made your way.
Gerard’s Bar, Fortitude Valley
This Valley icon only does one version of a Martini, but it’s a goodie: the On Skins Martini #2 features Ambleside Small Acre gin, an apple and pear skin vermouth, and lime peel.
Dutch Courage, Fortitude Valley
Although James Bond’s Martini order is probably the most famous one in popular culture, it’s rare to see it on menus in the wild. Dutch Courage has one with gin, vodka and Lillet Blanc. And yes, it’s shaken not stirred.
Rothwell’s Bar & Grill, Brisbane
Walk into the opulent dining room and you’ll want to order a Martini. It just makes sense. And classic is what they do best here.
Pink Moon Saloon, Adelaide
The Pink Moon Saloon’s not messing with a classic formula. Dry gin, dry vermouth and a little bit of saline. If you get the Espresso Martini, it comes with Haigh’s chocolate.
Pastel Wine Bar, North Adelaide
If you’re off the wines, go for the Disco Martini here – it’s a very happy union between gin, falernum, orange bitters and lemon oil.
Although there’s a classic Martini here, full points goes to the Espresso Martini, which comes garnished with caramelised popcorn. It really reads the room.
Republic of Fremantle, Fremantle
This Freo gin distillery rocks four kinds of Martini to showcase its various gins. There’s a Seasonal Martini with tea blossom, a Martini Highball, and the Bamboo – vodka, golden sherry and a vermouth blend.
Naber has the Only F4ns Martini, a riff on the Pornstar Martini. There’s also the Smores Espresso Martini, which comes with a double shot of espresso and a marshmallow. Also worth trying: the French Martini with vodka, Chambord and pineapple.
Al Lupo, North Fremantle
At this beachside bar, look no further than the Last Dance: gin, vermouth, pisco and mandarin.
Le Rebelle, Mount Lawley
You’ll find arguably the perfect dirty gin Marto at this French-ish bistro. Heavy on the olive brine and cold as they come.