On Feb. 14, to celebrate the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which has morphed over time into Singles Awareness Day, I went forth on foot seeking a martini. Granted, Ocean Beach is no cocktailing empyrean, but neither is it bereft of saloons.
First stop, Nick’s at the Pier. “What do I get if I just ask for a martini?” Affable young barman defaults to unmeasured pour of Stoli, searches for vermouth, can’t find it, gives up. “Not using vermouth?” I ask. “Too dry,’” he says. I don’t have the heart to say it’s the other way around. He chills the oversized glass (thank you!), shakes the daylights out of the vodka, asks if I want an olive or a twist. I opt for the latter, and he squeezes in a whole slice. Icy, cloudy, lemony vodka. Not a martini. $8.
Next stop, Tony’s cocktail lounge—must’ve looked awesome 90 years ago. Friendly bartender scoffs at my lack of ordering precision. As at Nick’s, onus is on customer to explain how to make the drink. This time, I request gin. She recommends Hendrick’s! Good call. Asks if I want vermouth. I say “a little,” assuming correctly that the fortified wine is sitting out and spoiled. She also asks, “Shaken?” Damn James Bond. “Stirred.” Olive or twist? Twist. Pre-peeled. The battle between the enticing, floral Hendrick’s and the cheap, vinegary vermouth does not a martini make. $9.
Third and final stop, BO-Beau, the most attractive and pleasant bar in the ’hood. (I was going to give Pac Shores a try, but I’m losing heart and liver.) Nice-guy barkeep recommends gin—Hendrick’s again! But he insists no vermouth—and shakes it to ruin. Still, the fireplace patio is pleasant at 10:30 p.m. $10.
Back at home. Glass in freezer. One-and-a-half ounces of Plymouth gin; half-ounce of fresh, chilled Dolin dry vermouth; two dashes of orange bitters. Stir well with a lot of cracked ice, strain into chilled glass and squeeze essence from a fresh lemon peel over top. Sublime! My house for the win.
Happy Valentine’s Day, bartenders of San Diego (sadly not O.B.) who know what a martini is (you know who you are): This one’s for you.
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