Coming of age with 21 drinks: A bone-dry martini at the Cruise Room
What was your first cocktail?
Ever since Cro-Magnon man decided to mix his pond water with Noilly Prat, mankind has sought to mix beverages with other, different beverages. And ever since I turned 21, I've been thrust into the dazzling, intricate and occasionally fussy world of Denver booze. So now I'm prowling the city's bars, looking for an intoxicating education. My first stop? The Cruise Room.
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Having been around since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Cruise Room in the Oxford Hotel has survived every fleeting trend in booze that you can think of -- does anybody remember mojitos? And with its thick, art deco atmosphere and the ever-present sound of cocktail shakers, the Cruise Room -- and a good, stiff martini -- seemed the perfect way to start my quest.
No libation looms larger in the popular imagination than the martini. It is the drink of the sophisticated, the aqua vitae of the perennial urbanite. Suave spies and Supreme Court rejects alike sing its praises. The debates over the proper gin/vermouth ratio, the question of gin or vodka (Bond be damned, go for gin) and the quibbling over endless variations all happen to be extremely interesting to the people who get off on that sort of thing -- and extremely boring to everyone else.
I looked to the Cruise Room to help sort the mess in all its grandfatherly glory.
I had been cautioned that since the Cruise Room and neighboring McCormick's Fish House & Bar are now run by Landry's Restaurants Inc., this iconic booze club was no longer a true martini bar. "With this new menu, they're [leaning] towards mixology," bartender Joelle Johnson told me. Along with the recent renovation, the venerable lounge got a new drink menu with a board of curious cocktails.
House-made bitters are fine and dandy, but I had come for a simple martini. Johnson asked me what brand of gin I favored (Bombay Sapphire) and my preferred garnish (twist of lemon -- I defer to Robert Bork on the matter of olives). Martinis at the Cruise Room come not in a standard, slender martini glass, but a generous bell-shaped glass that mimics the Art Deco styling of the bar. Noticeably missing was the shaker that I had heard used to be served alongside, with your drink's remnants. And that wasn't the only thing missing.
I grilled Johnson on what she makes when a customer asks for a martini. She replied that she usually makes them a dry martini -- dry, as in no Vermouth. Not a drop. I was floored. I had come of age just as this venerable beverage was becoming little better than a glass of cold gin. The drink was still delicious, but I was disappointed that a place like the Cruise Room is now hopping trends instead of trying to outlast them.
The New Cruise Room Martini:
4 oz. top shelf gin
Twist of lemon
Pour the gin into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Twist lemon peel and drop into glass. Put Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" on jukebox. Serve. Wait to be bought out by multinational seafood conglomerate.
With every installment, I'll be featuring a cocktail recipe cooked up by me or from the bar itself. Have a suggestion for a place I should visit? Post it below.