For this year’s SWIG we decided it was high time to revisit the idea of a three-martini lunch — you know, the kind of leisurely business meetings you’ve seen on Mad Men, accompanied by smoke breaks and flirty waitresses. We were inspired, in part, by Little Jack’s Tavern, where the retro decor and cozy sit-and-stay-a-while vibes are begging for you to kick back and enjoy a boozy lunch. We scoured the city for restaurants and bars that not only serve martinis, but also embody the three-martini lunch experience, from throwback cocktail recipes to white coat bar service.
I was, admittedly, a little nervous about the ‘tini trek. Yes, drinking is fun, but diving into the world of classic cocktails can be intimidating. I’ll be the first to tell you that before this article I’d never tasted a martini, let alone ordered one. The unknown is scary, y’all, especially when you’re asking for a $12 drink. But, I like (OK, love) clear liquors, so the prospect of swilling high class drinks made with gin and vodka was enough to send me out for some research.
CP photographer Jonathan Boncek and I set out on the difficult (just kidding, it was great) task of tasting, talking, and reveling in all things martinis. Here’s what we found.
15 Beaufain St.
Tucked away on Beaufain Street, Le Farfalle is best known for its Italian food, but they’ve got a pretty solid list of inventive cocktails, too. For a mouth-puckering trip, order Le Farfalle Gibson made with barrel rested gin, dry vermouth, and house-pickled vegetables. Adorned with a sprig of dill, the drink is both sweet (the veggies are pickled in champagne vinegar) and herbacious.
You can also order a classic martini — Boncek and I like ours extra dirty with vodka — which comes out as cold and dry as you need it. That’s the thing about martinis: They’re best when they’re ice cold. Happily sipping away on my drink, I wondered how those sauve guys on Mad Men possibly stayed sober enough to make it back to work. You’ve got to drink the stuff fast, right? Not necessarily. Pro tip: that stem is for holding. Keep your fingers off the glass and your drink will stay colder longer.
Inside the Dewberry, 334 Meeting St.
While Henrietta’s had just ended lunch service when we arrived, the Dewberry’s lobby bar was open for business. If you haven’t had a chance to swing by the Dewberry yet, I suggest you walk through its wood-paneled lobby; it’s like taking a step back in time. We saddled up to the bar to taste Henrietta’s take on a martini — the sidecar.
Bar Manager Ryan Casey, formerly of both McCrady’s and Edmund’s Oast, shook our drinks — hard — pouring half into a small glass and placing the carafe of the rest into a cup of ice. Not to be confused with the actual sidecar cocktail, this version of a martini is a true throwback. “The original martini is small, very cold, very fast. You take a break, smoke some cigarettes,” says Casey. And then, of course, you get behind the wheel, err, back to drinking.
That hard shake from Casey guaranteed that the cocktail would have “ice on the pond,” a delightful phrase that literally refers to small pieces of ice floating atop the drink. Henrietta’s martini is made with vodka, dry vermouth, pickle brine, and a caper berry.
Little Jack’s Tavern
710 King St.
The restaurant that inspired it all — Little Jack’s — is just as fond of two martini lunches as we are. The place even offers half-priced martinis ($6) from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., so ballers on a budget can drink two ‘tinis for the price of one.
While Little Jack’s will serve you a martini however you want it, they prefer to serve their classic take on the drink, Jack’s Martini. This martini is made with hard shaken vodka and vermouth and a lemon twist. Simple, classy, boozy.
192 East Bay St.
While I was sitting at Slightly North of Broad’s bar around noon, I noticed several martinis being sent out to eager customers. Before I even ordered my own drink I breathed a sigh of relief — there are, in fact, martini-drinking lunch-goers in the Lowcountry.
S.N.O.B. is packed at lunch with an equal number of tables swilling the good stuff as there are seats sipping cool iced tea. I asked my bartender to make me whatever martini he thought best represented the restaurant, and he didn’t disappoint with the Vesper Martini a.k.a. James Bond’s drink of choice.
While the S.N.O.B. bar gets a lot of martinis-with-olives orders, the Vesper serves as a lighter, more appropriate choice for lunch. Made with both gin and vokda, this boozy drink also features Lillet bitters and a lemon twist. Served in a big ‘ol glass, this martini is not for the faint of heart.
2 Unity Alley
The reinterpreted McCrady’s Tavern can feel more accessible than its predecessor, if only for its lunch (Wed.-Fri.), weekend brunch, and dinner hours. Belly up to the bar at 2 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and you’re sure to receive stellar service from one of the Tavern’s bartenders, who will ask you about your drink preferences before serving you.
McCrady’s likes to stick to tradition with its wet martini (this designates a two parts vermouth to one part gin ratio), made with the customer’s choice of gin — might I recommend the delicious Jensen — Dolin dry vermouth, a splash of orange bitters, and a lemon twist. Simple, sexy, and, of course, super cold, this martini begs for another. Sip and stay a while.