What Makes The Dukes Martini So Special

Every now and then, a cocktail becomes an attraction in its own right. Like Irish coffee at San Francisco's Buena Vista and the Singapore sling at Raffles in, well, Singapore, the martini at Dukes Bar in London has legions of followers who swear it's the only martini worth drinking. And it all started with a tiny mention by a persnickety journalist from San Francisco.

According to Cigar Aficionado, bartender Salvatore Calabrese created the iconic cocktail as a last-ditch to satisfy the exacting standards of long-time San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane. Every evening while he was in town, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, who was a frequent guest at Dukes Hotel, stopped by Dukes Bar to order a very cold, very dry martini. Despite Calabrese's best efforts, the final product was never cold enough or dry enough to satisfy Delaplane — until one night when the bartender threw caution to the wind and popped a bottle of gin in the freezer in anticipation of the writer's evening request.

When Delaplane arrived at the bar, Calabrese poured gin straight from the freezer bottle into a martini glass and added barely a dash of vermouth. That night, Delaplane had two of Calabrese's martinis before retiring for the evening. A short time later, Delaplane filed a story for his syndicated column. It ended with a callout to Calabrese and the best martini in England.

The evolution of a classic cocktail

Delaplane's simple shoutout brought an increasing number of patrons to Dukes Bar to sample the best martini in England. According to Cigar Aficionado, Calabrese embraced the spotlight and expanded the bar's offerings of what would later be called the "direct martini" process by routinely storing assorted bottles of gin and vodka in the freezer and keeping chilled glasses at the ready. He also incorporated a bit of showmanship into the experience of ordering a Dukes martini by wheeling out an ornate trolley and preparing individual cocktails tableside.

In 1994, Calabrese moved on to man the bar at the nearby Lanesborough Hotel (via Difford's Guide) before embarking on a career that's taken him around the world. His successor Alessandro Palazzi — who still heads up Dukes Bar — put his own spin on the Dukes martini tradition.

Palazzi kept the trolley service but enhanced the presentation. These days, patrons who saunter into Dukes Bar for a martini are greeted by a bartender who arrives with the cart and then swirls a bit of dry white vermouth in an artisanal martini glass before theatrically tossing the remnants onto the carpet and pouring the guest's choice of gin or vodka into the glass and adding a twist of citrus from a lemon imported from Italy's Amalfi Coast (via Cigar Aficionado).

In addition, journalist Stanton Delaplane may or may not have inspired a new tradition: Dukes Bar enforces a two-martini maximum (via Grub Street).