A Brief History of the Martini and Where To Drink'Em In the French Quarter of New Orleans

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

--Read Time: 8 Minutes--

A leopard's face stares directly at the viewer
Yes. The martini is dead sexy as a leopard.

May I reiterate: If there is an alpha cocktail in the cocktail kingdom, it is the martini.

It is dead sexy as a leopard. Invites play like a kitten.

And has as many aliases as this stray cat following you home for a drinkie: Martinez, Gibson, Turf Club, Dry Martini, Very Dry Martini, Dirty Martini, Perfect Martini, Burnt Martini, Bronx.(1)

The story of its origin is brief.

It appears in the late 1800's. We don't know who invented it. We don't know where it came from.

So, like any feline, it is mysterious. And, also like any feline...

It comes impeccably dressed to kill.

Attired in gin and vermouth, its accessories can include bitters and maraschino and olive juice and fruit juice and spirits.

But not vodka.

This will be a problem for some of you.

I don't care. I'm a cat. I am superior to you when it comes to, well, everything.

But most especially cocktails.

Drink your "vodka martini" if you must, but just have the decency and decorum to call it by its original name.

The Kangaroo.(2)

Yes. Really. I'm not kitten you.

Which certainly explains why Agent 007, James Bond, always orders them as a "vodka martini," as Felicity so graciously pointed out.

He's smart enough to know that if he ordered Kangaroos like the charming, debonair, beautiful--yet ruthless, murderous, pitiless--bad boy alpha tom(3) that he is, he wouldn't get all the good kitty.(4)

Like he does.

Kangaroo is just too bloody embarrassing for any self-respecting sheba(5) to be interested in a tom that orders one.

Also, he drinks them shaken, not stirred. Another faux paw.

Which begs a couple of questions.

Why does Mr. Bond drink Kangaroos and not martinis? And why does he drink them shaken and not stirred?

If you would like the answer to these questions, you will be enlightened below:

Inevitably entertaining, isn't it?

Also, inevitably entertaining was the revelation, contained therein, that Mr. James Bond is named after an ornithologist.

Yes. A bird expert.

I ask of you: Is nothing sacred? I may have to sleep for days just to ward off the horror.

Because this information, combined with the additional horror of his rampant Kangaroo quaffing, can put a cat off their drinkies. This feline just sayin'.

In fact, I would have no faith in him at all, if wasn't for this next video.

Not only does it condense forty years of James ordering spirits into less than four minutes, but, also, one of his compatriots orders not one, but two, Sazeracs(6), and James creates, on the fly, the Vesper.(7)

A cocktail with vodka and gin in it.

Kitten steps, James. Kitten steps...

The problem with watching this, however, is that I now have a thirst.

But what a coincidence.

I just happen to know of three French Quarter cocktail destinations that are superb for familiarizing martinis...

Shall we?

A martini with lemon garnish in a Nick and Nora glass, New Orleans, LA
Jane Austen had the sense and sensibility to write "Sense and Sensibility", but did she have the sense and sensibility to drink a martini? Here the Bombay Club's Churchill Martini, named for her legendary countryman, lords over the room with all the dignity and aplomb of its namesake.

The Bombay Club

COVID-19 Update: Temporarily CLOSED.

Nested underneath the Prince Conti Hotel lies The Bombay Club. Intentionally rather English in presentation, it is as if you walked into a drawing room in Downton Abbey--without all the Edwardian stiff upper lip. In fact, with the subdued lighting, dark wood, brass accents, leather seating, book shelves and grandfather clock you are forgiven for believing so, even though you are only half a block removed from Bourbon Street. Once you discover, however, that BBQ Shrimp & Grits shares equal billing on the menu with Fish & Chips and that live jazz is featured nightly, you will be disavowed of your aristocratic fantasy in a most wonderfully NOLA manner.

But take heart Anglophiles! With classic English sense and sensibility, drinkies are, of course, on offer here and, most especially, that drool worthy, incisor smacking, viscous pool of Caribbean clear, fjord frigid, cat-egorically crisp deliciousness, the martini. Genuinely: The Bombay Club may be the only true martini bar in New Orleans. Why? Because--newly born kittens!--they specialize in martinis and have rather an extensive menu of them. So, sure! yes! there are a myriad bars in this town that will lovingly create for you this alpha cocktail, but this secluded nest worships them in a fantastical English drawing room--and that is the cat's bollocks!(8)

830 Conti Street bombayclubneworleans.com 504.608.0670

A female bartender stirs a cocktail, New Orleans, LA
This Cheshire Cat of a bartender at Jewel of the South smiles mischievously with her knowledge of the Tuxedo Tails. These wonders of gin and sherry are so de-luscious that--dare I say it?--you will have kittens when you drink them.

Jewel of the South

COVID-19 UPDATE: OPEN. Offered by appointment, every Wednesday-Sunday, through May. Book your Cocktail Hour experience online at Jewel's website, below.

If I were to give you a list of the Five Top Cocktail Bars in New Orleans, one of them is now missing. And Jewel of the South has taken its place. Open for not even a year, this gem of a tavern--meow, bitches! not-cat pun intended--features impeccably made drinkies paired with luscious small plates, all nested together under the atmospheric roof and courtyard of a circa 1835 Creole Cottage in the French Quarter. The brainchild of Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich--formerly of Arnaud's French 75 Bar and Cane & Table, respectively--this is a resurrection of a famous New Orleans bar from the 1800's of the same name. The owner of the original, Joseph Santini, comes under the heading of, Why You Should Care, because he revolutionized cocktails forever by adding citrus juice to them. Yes. Me-WOW! Seismic is a word unworthy. Any cocktail here is a gift, but, in addition to familiarizing yourself with a martini at Jewel of the South, also do so with a Brandy Crusta.(9) The citrus juice in question is lemon. And the decade of its immaculate conception is the 1850's.(10)

Regarding martinis, however, in addition to any classic variation, imbibe a Tuxedo Tails.(11) It is described on the menu as, "An elegant martini riff," and chosen by Robert Simonson--drinks writer for the New York Times--and contributing editor at Punch to be one of their Top 10 Cocktails of 2019.

The ingredients are gin, sherry, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. The garnish--olive, pickled onion and hard-boiled and pickled quail egg--are presented charmingly, to the side, on a bed of ice.

Choose your weapon and garnish responsibly!

Thus, the Tuxedo Tails, truth be told, is an alternate universe version of the martini, substituting sherry for the vermouth.

Like an uptown cat vs. a downtown cat. Or a domestic vs. a stray vs. a feral vs. a fey.

I have no idea why I said that or what that means, but the Tuxedo Tails, regardless, is indeed a martini by any other name...and most deliciously worthy of your time.

1026 St. Louis Street jewelnola.com 504.265.8816

A Miller High Life next to a martini on a bar, New Orleans, LA
At Longway Tavern, these two cats and dogs actually get along. Well. The House Martini with High Life sidecar is a match made in imbibing heaven.

Longway Tavern

COVID-19 UPDATE: Temporarily CLOSED.

Meow, Meow: Longway Tavern. Like all of the bars I choose to share with you for very good reason--in this case, martinis--Longway is a cheetah destination(12) for many other drinkie or small plate fantasies, as well. For instance, regarding cuisine, Longway appeared in Esquire Magazine's, Best New Restaurants in America, 2018. But--to state the obvious--it ain't just about food here. As they mention in the article, "Sip a perfect Sazerac...." Or any other cocktail you can think of. The drinks menu, which pairs wonderfully with all the delish plates, is under the auspices of Anna Giordano and her bar krewe and they alchemy the scheise out of these spirited potions in a darkened, "I wanna stay longer and not go off to that stupid meeting with the lawyers to receive my inheritance," sense of place that also has the additional sense to throw a classic French Quarter courtyard into this New Orleans equation.

But, perhaps, you feel that your 'ole spar(13) Stray Cat is straying from the matter at hand? The martini. In fact, like most classic cocktails that are greatness incarnate, the martini is a simplicity of very few ingredients and I am keeping it simple here: order their House Martini. It is Beefeater gin and Dolin Dry vermouth. For an extra buck--and ye olde Stray Cat is loathe to admit this and is asking you to keep the following on the down low, meaning you didn't hear it from this cocktail cat--include a Miller High Life pony on the side. Simply perfect.

Stray Cat Scratch: You will notice on Longway's menu that you can turn this paragon of gin and vermouth into a Kangaroo by substituting Grey Goose vodka for the Beefeater gin. And although this may be Mr. James Bond's cocktail go-to, as discussed, you know how I feel about it. For you Kangaroo aficionados, surrender to the dark side already and cuddle up to this delicious liquid kitty, ginly known as, the martini.

719 Toulouse Street longwaytavern.com 504.962.9696

If Stray Cat NOLA's martini adventure combined with these three incisor smacking destinations of martini excellence have inspired you to brush up against a delicate glass stem in preparation for your own adventures in the Cocktail Kingdom that is New Orleans, you may want to consider a cocktail tour with ye olde Stray Cat NOLA's scribe himself, here, at New Orleans Streetwalkers Tours...this feline just sayin'.

NOLA! 'Cause I'm Cat Like Dat.

Stray Cat NOLA


1. ...Perfect Martini, Burnt Martini, Bronx. Although Stray Cat NOLA has a wealth of cocktail knowledge at his snooty command, us muggles do not. So this is a good spot for me to share with y'all--as Stray Cat's scribe--my go-to reference books on the subject.

Charming, C. (2018). The Cocktail Companion. Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing Group.

Wondrich, D. (2015). Imbibe. Updated and Revised Edition. New York: Perigee Books.

2. The Kangaroo. For you inquiring minds, I give you more information regarding the Kangaroo Cocktail:

Kangaroo Cocktail, Imbibemagazine-dot-com, April 11, 2013

The Kangaroo, a.k.a. Vodka Martini Recipe by Paul Clarke, Seriouseats-dot-com, May 21, 2010/Last Updated: August 9, 2018

3. tom. A male cat. But also used interchangeably, when convenient for cats, with the male of any species.

4. ...get all the good kitty. Or, "getting the good kitty," or just, "kitty," is not used by cats solely sexually or solely in reference to shebas--see 5., below. It is a reference to anything that causes cats to go ballistic with pleasure. For instance, to certain felines, an epic belly rub could be, for them, "getting the good kitty." But for others, they might be like, Meh. Also, as stated, it applies to felines of either sex, because, Mew Dat!, aren't we all kitties here?

5. sheba. A female cat. Used interchangeably, when convenient for cats, with the female of any species, it was also villein slang in the 1920's for, "a young woman with sex appeal." Who knew? Editors of Time-Life Books (2000). The Jazz Age | The 20's (p.33). New York: Bishop Books, Inc.

6. Sazerac. The official cocktail of the city of New Orleans. Created in the French Quarter in the mid 1800's, it is ratified as our official cocktail by Senate Bill Number 6 in 2008. The ingredients are rye whiskey, Herbsaint, Peychaud's bitters, sugar and a twist of lemon.

7. Vesper. Ingredients: gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano, lemon peel.

8. ...the cat's bollocks! The actual saying is, "The dog's bollocks," and is, appropriately, British slang. It means something is excellent, perhaps the best of the best. Of course, if taken literally, it says, "The dog's testicles!" And has several possible derivations. But we really don't want to get into that, do we? Regardless, Stray Cat is not about to give a dog top billing, and, being dogs, frankly, they are anything but, "the bollocks!" Felines just sayin'...

9. Brandy Crusta. Ingredients: cognac, curacao, maraschino, lemon juice, Angostura bitters.

10. "And the decade of its immaculate conception is the 1850's." Wondrich, D. (2015). Imbibe. Updated and Revised Edition (p.314). New York: Perigee Books.

11. Tuxedo Tails. The Tuxedo is a cocktail: gin, dry sherry, orange bitters. Wondrich, D. (2015). Imbibe. Updated and Revised Edition (p.282). New York: Perigee Books.

12. cheetah destination... When cats want to give a particularly flattering, yet sincere, compliment, they will equate it with a truly wild, or fey, cat. The cheetah is reserved for the finest admiration as its combination of speed, grace, beauty and skill is admired by all felines. It is important to note, however, that--in the right context--this mode of compliment can and will be used sarcastically or to mock. Regarding Longway Tavern, Stray Cat is giving it among the highest of recommendations.

13. 'ole spar. Unlike many cat terms or slang, which are interpreted solely by their context--similar to 12. above--'ole spar is only, ever, used one way and is universally understood to mean that, "I am your best friend. We go way back. Our bond is forged on shared experience." It is one of the great compliments a cat can pay and is never said lightly or in jest. Even among enemies. It is derived from kittens sparring and learning together what it is to play and hunt and protect and to love.

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