Although everyone seems to know how to make a martini – each advocating their own perfect ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth – no one seems to know who made it first. There are three contenders:
One: A Signore Martini from Arma di Taggia, a bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel during the 1910’s in New York,
Two: Jerry Thomas, a bartender at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco during the 1850’s and 60’s and
Three: Johann Paul Aegius Schwartzendorf, a German musician who emigrated to France in the 1750’s
Let’s begin with the bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel, Signore Martini from Arma di Taggia in Italy. Italian sources say that this immigrant was hired by the Knickerbocker and in 1910 mixed gin and vermouth in honor of John D. Rockefeller. There are problems with this story – the greatest being the numerous published references to the drink that pre-date 1910. However, it may just be semantics: it is possible that the Knickerbocker bartender, the first to use dry white vermouth in place of sweet red vermouth, actually invented the dry martini. Really, is there any other kind?
Apparently, yes. Jerry Thomas, a bartender at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco in the 1850’s and 60’s, is said to have mixed a drink for a prospector, about to set out on a journey to Martinez, California. Thomas combined one dash bitters, two dashes Maraschino (a liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries), one wine glass of vermouth, two small lumps of ice, one shot of a sweetened gin called Old Tom, and dubbed it the “Martinez,” in honor of the customer’s destination. Does a shot of gin overwhelmed by a wine glass of vermouth a martini make?
Which brings us to the third contender, Johann Paul Aegius Schwartzendorf, a German musician who emigrated to France in 1758 and changed his name to Jean Paul Aegide Martini. He became known for his favorite drink, a mixture of gin and white wine, which friends and devotees would order by his assumed name, Martini. Ostensibly, when those friends emigrated to the United States, they brought the drink with them. Of course, the distance between France and America is shorter than the distance between a concoction of gin and white wine and a definitive martini.
Let’s face it: a martini, as we know it, is six parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth. Perhaps the first person to enjoy this particular recipe couldn’t remember who had served it to him. So we’ll likely never know.
— Carol Cofone