The Alluring Origin Story Of The Espresso Martini

The city girl's drink of choice is a luxurious, caffeinated cocktail. The espresso martini exudes sophistication and elegance with its creme top, full-bodied espresso shot, and sugary finish. Mixing alcohol with caffeine may seem counterproductive since the two drugs cancel each other out: alcohol slows you down while caffeine wakes you up (via CDC). This effect opens up the possibility of downing a couple more cocktails on your night out — if that's your goal.

Although it never went out of fashion, the espresso martini has made a huge comeback, along with other signifiers of early Y2K glam. Perhaps it's due to the timeless flavor or the decorative espresso beans that adorn the top — either way, the espresso martini remains a hit all over the world, with some fascinating variations across the states. Not only does this drink have a charming appearance and taste, but it also has a glitzy origin story to match it. Whether it's myth or fact is disputed, but according to its inventor, it all started one night in the late 1980s at Fred's Club in London.

A model walks into a bar

Dick Bradsell, legendary mixologist and bartender, was working the bar when a young model came up to him with a quirky request: "Can you make me a drink that will wake me up and then f**k me up?" The so-called "cocktail king" decided to combine a couple of shots of Wyborowa Vodka (a Polish vodka), simple syrup, Kahlúa (coffee liqueur), and a fresh shot of espresso, as shared in an interview. After shaking the concoction, he strained it into a chilled martini glass and placed three espresso beans on the foamy surface. Even if there may be some fabrication on Bradsell's part, this iconic anecdote fits the refined essence of the espresso martini.

According to cocktail historian Simon Difford, this coffee-based cocktail was first called a vodka espresso since that's what it literally was, per GQ. Eventually, anything served in a martini glass was called a "martini," like the Sour Apple Martini popular in New York during the '90s. However, these new "martinis" were hardly martinis at all — just sugary drinks served in those stylish triangle glasses. According to Difford's Guide, an actual martini is a mix of either vodka or gin and vermouth, usually served dirty or dry. Amidst the martini glass craze, Bradsell worked at Damien Hirsch's restaurant, Pharmacy, and called the drink a Pharmaceutical Stimulant. This name didn't stick around, and the drink won the zingy misnomer, espresso martini, which suits this punchy and cosmopolitan drink.