RICHMOND, Va. — It was the elegant tonic that toasted the death of Prohibition, served clear as water in a long-stemmed V-shaped glass with an olive impaled on a toothpick and a mighty gin wallop.
Made with vodka, it became the signature drink of James Bond, agent 007, in the 1950s and '60s. Legend has it that any executive worth his expense account consumed three of them during a long business lunch.
And now, the martini has found favor with a whole new generation of admirers--the same twentysomething crowd that is reviving big band music and a passion for big, expensive cigars.
"It's the glass, and the whole thing of the ladies with the long cigarettes and big hats like you see in the movies," said Trudi Weigle, a supervisor at T.J.'s bar and restaurant at the Jefferson, a swank Richmond hotel. "It's the whole feeling of being mature."
Martini fans in their 20s and 30s enjoy sipping the heady concoction of gin or vodka and vermouth while they languish in the hotel's posh grand rotunda puffing a cigar during the cocktail hour, Weigle said. "It goes hand-in-hand."
Dana Dunnavant, a 25-year-old Richmond waitress, tried her first martini a little more than a month ago after she had seen many of her customers order them. She liked the taste and the drink's presentation.
"I'd order another one," she said.
The martini seemed to begin its revival about a year ago--about the time the Republicans took control of Congress from the Democrats, said Susan Ironfield, a spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in Washington. "Kind of a pro-business atmosphere," she said.
It's unclear what role the martini's resurgence played, but U.S. gin consumption last year was up for the first time since 1990, according to the 1995 Jobson's Liquor Handbook, a report for the spirits industry. Consumption rose 2.7%, according to the report.
In San Francisco, the martini is so popular at the Last Day Saloon that the establishment had to order more martini glasses, said bartender and manager Catherine McCarthy.
"There's definitely a lot of aesthetic pleasure in drinking a martini," said McCarthy, 26. "I like them a lot myself."
Dan Rubinate of Max's Opera Cafe, also in San Francisco, said that the World War II generation accounted for most of his martini drinkers--many of them businessmen having a three-martini lunch.
But "lately, you see a lot of young kids," he said. "It's kind of nice in a way." He believes the martini's resurgence reflects the mood among Generation Xers that has made singer Tony Bennett a hit again, just as he was in the 1950s and '60s.
Rubinate goes for the classic martini--straight up with gin, just a touch of vermouth and an olive, served in a small, chilled glass to ensure that the drink won't get too warm.
But these days there are many variations, such as the Cajun martini--vodka, vermouth, garlic, jalapeno pepper and pickled onions. The Martini, a new drink and cigar bar at Chianti's restaurant in Houston, offers about 50 varieties, said bartender Edwin Giraldo.
The origin of the martini is not well-documented. It was probably invented in the late 1800s and is somehow connected to Martini & Rossi vermouth of Italy, according to the Dictionary of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani.
Perhaps more than any other cocktail, the martini is associated with wit and sophistication.
William Powell and Myrna Loy sipped martinis and solved mysteries as Nick and Nora Charles in "The Thin Man" movies of the 1930s and '40s. And then there was Bond, who was very particular that his vodka martinis be shaken, not stirred.
Martinis may be stylish, but they can also be dangerous, said Dr. Sidney Schnoll, chairman of substance abuse medicine at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals.
The cocktail gives drinkers a more concentrated dose of alcohol than a glass of wine or a can of beer and generally is consumed much faster, he said.
"It's certainly not a trend that we like to see."