the dirty martini is Sydney’s new favorite drink

The classic martini is experiencing a renaissance in Sydney, where the once-civilized cocktail is starting to get dirty.

“Right now it’s all about dirty gin martinis,” said Harrison Kenney, the general manager of Bar Planet, Sydney’s first concept martini bar. “It’s getting really nasty.

“The most popular dirty martini starts with three olives and a good splash of brine, and depending on how the customer likes it, we make it saltier and nastier from there.”

Dirty martinis are the drink of choice in all of Sydney.

Dirty martinis are the drink of choice in all of Sydney. Photo: Edwina Pickles



The team behind Cantina OK!, the CBD mezcal bar ranked No. 23 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, opened Bar Planet on Enmore Road in April.

The “psychedelic, Parisienne” space, with its starry countertops, melting wax candles, and curved iron entrance, has quickly become a favorite in the Midwest.

“We wanted to take a fresh look at the martini,” Kenney says. “The drink usually comes with a whole host of connotations. It’s connected to this weird sense of elitism.

“It’s important not to take yourself too seriously, in life but also in drinking culture.”

“But it’s important not to take yourself too seriously, in life but also in drinking culture.”

There are no Secret Service agents donning tuxedos at Bar Planet, which “democratizes” the cocktail by using a yum-cha-style drop-down menu that clearly explains the key principles of a martini order.

The drink traditionally contains two parts gin and one part dry vermouth, but can be personalized in a variety of ways. A wet martini has a higher ratio of vermouth, while a dry martini has less. It can be garnished with olives and brine (dirty), with a lemon zest (a twist) or a cocktail onion (a Gibson).

Some people prefer a vodka martini because it can provide a cleaner taste. Famed martini drinker and English playwright Noel Coward preferred his without any vermouth, claiming “a perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin and then swinging it in the general direction of Italy”.

“People can be afraid to order a martini,” Kenney says. “No one ever really tells you what those things mean, so it’s nice to have a tool to teach people and break it all down.”

At Menzies Bar in the CBD, office workers are ordering dirty martinis in droves. The dimly lit European-style bar offers a “golden hour” daily, pairing mini martinis with lobster rolls for just $10 each.

Bar Planet is working on "democratize" the martini by providing a simple ordering process and locally sourced ...

Bar Planet is working to “democratize” the martini by providing a simple ordering process and using local ingredients. Photo: Edwina Pickles



“There’s a real excitement about it. At 4pm people just start running in,” said Alex Kirkwood, Shell House food and beverage manager.

“People love the personalized element of the martini. You can see they get a little smile on their face as they go through the ritual of ordering one at the bar.

“Dirt is definitely the focus. We sell most of that.”

Perhaps Sammy considers the martini an essential part of their award-winning offerings.

Perhaps Sammy considers the martini an essential part of their award-winning offerings. Photo: Anna Kucera



The martini takes center stage at Maybe Sammy, The Rocks cocktail bar, which was voted the best bar in Australasia by the 50 best bars in the world in 2021.

For special occasions, customers can treat themselves to “the ultimate martini experience” with the martini trolley. The trolley brings the famous showmanship of the bartenders to your table, where four iterations of the martini are concocted and served.

“It’s the most iconic drink in history. It should be the first drink you order when you walk into a cocktail bar,” said Stefano Catino, co-founder of Maybe Sammy.

Office workers are "hurry in" to Menzies Bar at 4pm to take advantage of their martini hour.

Office workers “rush in” at 4 p.m. to Menzies Bar to take advantage of their martini hour. Photo: Christopher Pearce



“That’s our signature. When people come in, we pour them a very, very cold gin or vodka martini in a beautiful mini Georg Jensen glass.

“Most people find their martinis extra gross.”

Local spirits are the stars of the next generation of martinis. At Maybe Sammy, Catino likes to use gin from Marrickville-based distillers Poor Toms and Botany’s Archie Rose in addition to the bigger brands.

The dirty martini is the favorite order of Maybe Sammy's customers making martini orders.

The dirty martini is the favorite order of Maybe Sammy’s customers making martini orders. Photo: James Brickwood



“What could be better than being in Sydney and drinking a martini with Sydney gin?” he says.

Standing up for Australian distillers is also at the heart of Bar Planet’s ethos. Following the COVID lockdown, Kenney says the team was eager to bring focus back to their own backyard by using domestic brands such as Tilde raw vodka and Applewood gin.

Bar Planet teamed up with Poor Toms to create the “Infinite Spirit”, a gin flavored with traditional apples picked from the orange grove of the late Harold “Borry” Gattrell, of Borrodell Winery.

Bar Planey, Sydney's first concept martini bar, opened in April.

Bar Planey, Sydney’s first concept martini bar, opened in April. Photo: Edwina Pickles



The spirit forms the basis of the bar’s signature martini, which is poured from a great height from a spectacular frozen Porron wine pitcher.

“The reaction was unreal,” Kenney says. “It’s insane to see 60 people in a bar drinking from ice cold martini glasses.”

How to make the perfect martini at home

In its simplest form, a single martini contains 60 milliliters of gin or vodka and 10 to 30 milliliters of dry vermouth to taste. The ingredients are stirred with ice for 30 to 45 seconds, strained into a glass and finished with a lemon twist, cocktail onion or olive (plus some brine if you get it “dirty”).

Temperature control is key to making a good martini, says Shell House’s Alex Kirkwood.

“You should try to keep everything as cold as possible to control the dilution,” he says.

“There’s nothing worse than an ugly, watered-down, warm martini.”

Perhaps Sammy’s co-founder, Stefano Catino, recommends putting both your favorite beverage and your glasses in the freezer ahead of time.

“Leave the vermouth in the fridge,” Catino says. “It’s a kind of wine, so that’s where it stays best.”

Both experts recommend using “quality ice” when stirring your martini. Large, clean cubes of new ice have a higher resistance to melting and keep martinis chilled without thinning them, so you can easily strain and pour them at the perfect temperature.

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