The 25-Cent Martini Is A Storied New Orleans Tradition That Still Lives On

In a world where a $25 martini is the norm and so-called luxury martinis are selling for $45-plus, it's damn near impossible to imagine paying just 25 cents, yes cents, to imbibe James Bond's favorite elixir — shaken or stirred. Let's unpack that bombshell. In his 1953 novel "Casino Royale," author Ian Fleming wrote about 007 giving a bartender explicit instructions about how to make what we know today as the Vesper martini. While we can't be sure what the super sleuth paid for said martini (did Bond ever pay for cocktails?), we can guess. Based on a quick glance at a circa 1950s Howard Johnson's cocktail menu, martinis were going for just 25 cents in the mid-20th century. Seven decades later, there's a place in New Orleans where martinis are still going for 25 cents each, And there's no time travel required.

Commander's Palace, an iconic New Orleans eatery, offers a luncheon special that includes up to three 25-cent martinis per person. To be clear, the throwback deal available Monday through Friday is anything but a bait-and-switch tactic. Patrons are not getting mini-martinis for a mini-price. The 25-cent martinis are full-size, and three is the limit. That's a rule, not a suggestion. Here's a twist: The 20-plus year tradition of 25-cent martinis at Commander's Palace connects directly to another iconic New Orleans restaurant — and right back to the 1950s.

Where it all began

In 1946, New Orleans restaurateur Owen Brennan opened Brennan's, which is where bananas Foster was invented. His siblings (including his sister Ella) joined him in the venture. Along the way, Brennan's became known for its 25-cent martinis. When Owen died suddenly in 1955, Ella and the rest of his siblings continued to run the successful operation, expanding the business in 1969 to include another New Orleans mainstay, Commander's Palace. A 1974 family feud led to a split. Owen's siblings and their families took the helm at Commander's Palace, while his wife and their three sons continued to operate Brennan's. Eventually, Brennan's 25-cent martinis lost their appeal, eclipsed by a burgeoning fascination with "fun" cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger and the Singapore Sling.

In the late 1990s, Ella Brennan and her sister Dottie handed the Commander's Palace reins to the next generation, Ella's daughter, Ti Martin, and her cousin, Lally Brennan. As the newly minted co-proprietors brainstormed ways to beef up the lunch crowd at the Garden District eatery, Dottie kept urging them to introduce the 25-cent martinis that were once so popular at the other family restaurant. By their own admission, the cousins rolled their eyes, but they gave it a shot. Turns out, Dottie was onto something. More than 20 years later, the 25-cent martinis at Commander's Palace are still drawing crowds. The menu includes four varieties, including Ray's Melon Martini. Named for a longtime employee, the vibrant concoction is a blend of vodka, house-made sour mix, and Midori.