Shaken or stirred, with gin, dry vermouth, and perhaps a dash or two of bitters, and an olive or lemon twist for garnish, the Martini is a classic cocktail of legendary stature. Simple yet elegant, and delivering a straightforward kick, the drink is at once ubiquitous and mysterious.
Whatever the origin story — some believe the Martini was created by bartender Jerry Thomas during California’s Gold Rush, others insist it was invented at New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel, and some say it was named for Vermouth producer Martini & Rossi — there is no doubt that the Martini holds a special place in American culture. This is perhaps most prevalent in American cinema.
According to author Robert Simonson, the Martini has been featured on the big screen for nearly 100 years, from the 1934 murder mystery “The Thin Man” to Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment.” Indeed, “The Martini was so in sync with the Hollywood mentality that it gave the industry an enduring piece of work jargon,” Simonson writes in his book, “The Martini Cocktail.”
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That jargon was “the Martini shot,” a term used to announce the final cinematic “shot” of the day. Where the phrase originated, like the drink itself, is a bit unclear: Some believe the term was coined during the heyday of Old Hollywood, when actors would sneak a Martini in celebration of the day’s final cut. A more tongue-in-cheek explanation suggests it was so named because the next “shot” of the day would come from a drinking glass, as opposed to a camera lens.
In any case, the Martini has held its place in the canon of American cinema. Muddled as its history may be, in acting as in drinking, some things are better left unsaid.