Shaken and Stirred

Martinis for purists and lovers of fruity mixed drinks alike

The martini, it could be argued, is the most versatile drink of the cocktail world. Sure, anyone who has seen a James Bond flick or power-lunched in the '80s will tell you that a martini should contain gin or vodka, vermouth, olives or onions, should be shaken or stirred, and served cold in a martini glass. And that formula and its variations certainly do result in a classic-yet-trendy, complex-yet-simple drink that, done properly, tastes as good as it looks.

And yet, drink lists at clubs throughout the metro area give the impression that the working definition of "martini" is much more flexible than originally believed. Martinis seem to be cross-pollinating with other cocktails, kind of like apples, tomatoes, and other food crops. A cosmotini, then, would be a cosmopolitan-inspired martini, and a margarini would be a margarita-inspired martini. These hybrids often substitute a flavored liqueur such as Chambord or Midori or a splash of fruit juice for the vermouth, but the drink's most important ingredient remains quality gin or vodka.

Of course the definition gets stretched even further by any number of Easter-egg-colored drinks usually named something clever and double-entendre-ish and ending in "ini." And while you may feel silly ordering a screamin' orgas-ini, what usually arrives is a mixed drink that is sweet enough to cover the burn of the alcohol for those who care for the kick, but not the taste, of strong drinks.

Darin Back

Location Info

Map

Moscow On the Hill Restaurant

371 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Joe's Garage

1610 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

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Whatever; I digress. Mostly, truly, it's hard not to feel sexy sipping from the conical-shaped glass. Isn't that the spirit of the martini? I say it is, and in that spirit, what follows is a roundup of some fun Twin Cities martini destinations, in all of kinds of forms and mutations.

 

MOSCOW ON THE HILL
With a gigantic vodka list containing choice selections from Ukraine, France, England, Italy, Finland, and of course, Russia, Moscow on the Hill is the obvious choice for martini sampling in St. Paul. It's an institution with a certain reputation to maintain, so you won't find any martinis of the mixed-drink variety. But that just means these cocktails are served up the way the Old World intended: cold and strong enough to knock you on your ass if you gulp rather than sip, as Moscow's menu encourages.

On this list, the best martinis are the ones that sound the strongest, such as the dirty martini (vodka, vermouth, and a splash of olive juice right out of the jar), or the Russian roulette (pepper and dry vodkas with a touch of vermouth). For newbies there are a couple of smooth, sweet selections such as Mikhail's martini (coffee and vanilla vodkas with a bit of Amaretto and a couple of coffee beans). It's important to note that while martinis are served strong here, they're not harsh. Most of the selections I have sampled go down clean and cool, but will warm you from within.

This is hardly a hipster destination (clientele are generally nicely dressed and middle-aged), and the decor is a bit lacking, but the lighting is dark enough that you can overlook it (tables have booths reminiscent of Perkins, with peasant shirts stuck to the wall). Moscow on the Hill still manages to shake up a great drink. And in a world of poorly mixed drinks, that can't be underestimated. MOSCOW ON THE HILL; 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651.291.1236,www.moscowonthehill.com

 

JITTERS MARTINI BARAND CABARET
Jitters is located in the basement of the Times, and given the ambience--metallic silver walls, plush burlesque-style velvet couches, and stained-glass hanging lamps that look like bauble earrings from the '70s--it could easily double as a super-secret alien lair in an old-school Star Trek movie. So what else could this place serve up but a great-looking martini? These folks are known for their second-generation martinis: sweet, pastel, girly-girl concoctions ideal for any My Little Pony on a bender. Names are whimsical, and some even bubble with a top layer of champagne. Of the drinks I tried, I recommend the Key lime martini (an alien-green drink reminiscent of a lime Jelly Belly) and the French kiss (a Barbie-pink elixir for the girl ready to step up from her usual vodka cranberry).

The only drink sampled that I can't recommend would be the invisible martini, a drink that managed to actually taste...invisible. (A novel concept, but at $7 to $10 a drink, don't you want to taste what you're drinking?) It's made with a secret ingredient Jitters calls "Chemical X," which my friend and I suspect could be Country Time Lemonade. Once properly lubricated, feel free to get up on stage and scream "Like a Virgin" into the karaoke machine (Thursday nights) or dance at Hipshakers (Wednesday nights).JITTERS MARTINI BAR AND CABARET 205 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis;612.617.1111, www.timesbardandcafe.com/htm/jitters.htm

 

JOE'S GARAGE
Joe's Garage is a bar that manages to straddle the girly vs. James Bond martini dilemma in a novel way: It serves up playfully named martinis that are still strong enough to knock the front teeth out of any mixed-drink-martini fan. Tasty and intoxicating choices include the cosmotini, margarini, and the fortified (Absolut Kurrant, Port wine, and grenadine). They're reminiscent of the cocktail they are named after, but still retain their mostly martini nature--a very delicate line to walk. Since this is a great burger joint, when martinis are served you get to keep the shaker to pour out the leftover drink while dining, malted milk-style.

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