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Professional Opinion: Best Martinis

Judge: Jean-Luc Le Dû, ex–head sommelier at Daniel and owner of Le Dû’s Wines.

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez.  
  • Jean-luc le dû won every major sommelier award during his ten years at Daniel. He’s also an amateur cocktail enthusiast. On a recent Tuesday night, Le Dû tested the house dry martini at five of New York’s best cocktail bars.

  • Fifth Place

  • Employees Only

    510 Hudson St., 212-242-3021

    Le Dû was handed a dry Beefeater martini with lemon—the bartender didn’t ask his preference. The lemon overwhelmed the whole sense of the drink, Le Dû said. “You could barely smell the gin.” Beefeater is “a good big brand,” but there was “way too much” vermouth in this martini, and that made it “too smooth,” Le Dû said. The rounded vintage cocktail glass was “much too big—it’s a get-me-drunk glass,” tutted Le Dû.

  • Fourth Place

  • Angel's Share

    8 Stuyvesant St., 212-777-5415

    Le Dû was served a Tanqueray martini, poured at the table in a chilled glass with three olives. The drink immediately scored points for presentation. And at first, Le Dû said, “We have a contender—the taste is smooth, and there’s almost a nutty flavor that none of the other drinks have.” But after a few more mouthfuls, he changed his mind. “I really like the nose, but it has a harsh, inelegant finish—like drinking moonshine,” he said. “It’s mixed very well, but the gin is bad.”

  • Third Place

  • Pegu Club

    77 W. Houston St., 212-473-7348

    Here, the martini was made from Hendrick’s gin and served in vintage cocktail glasses, with a little extra of the drink on the side. “This is the most floral,” Le Dû said. “You would swear there was lemon peel in it.” (That’s because Hendrick’s has cucumber infusions.) This was the driest, sharpest martini, said Le Dû. “The ratio of vermouth to gin is off.” Still the small, tender olives were the best Le Dû tasted, and they brought out the gin’s brininess.

  • Second Place

  • The King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel

    2 E. 55th St., 212-339-6721

    Another Beefeater martini, served in a traditional glass. “This is a perfectly mixed drink,” said Le Dû. “It’s smooth, it’s well made, you get the aromas of the juniper berries coming out.” There was a certain harshness on the palate, Le Dû said. “But it still tastes like a true martini.”

  • Winner

  • Milk & Honey

    Reservations only through a secret phone number

    Served with Plymouth gin and extra olives on the side. “I like the nose on this right away,” exclaimed Le Dû. “The aromas of gin are there, but they’re subdued. You get a scent of the olive, but it’s not overwhelming.” And the taste confirmed his first impression: “This is the perfect amount of vermouth. You get the sharpness of the gin, but it’s slightly mellowed. This is a martini! It’s true, it’s pungent.”

From the 2006 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine