Ever since the Espresso Martini staged a dramatic return to the limelight a few years ago, the drink—as well as its extended ’tini family tree—has remained a fixture of modern menus. It was the Trojan horse that allowed not only countless riffs on the caffeinated party-starter to abound, but emboldened the revival of its equally kitschy yet crowd-pleasing siblings, like the Pornstar Martini, which now comes in clarified and supersized versions, among others.
But not all ’tinis need to go high-concept to pass the grade in today’s cocktail landscape. In fact, the Espresso Martini and the Pornstar Martini are two examples that have stood the test of time with relatively little rejiggering. As they continue to inspire a new class of modern ’tinis in their wake, it’s worth revisiting the icons of the original movement that led us here. Below are five classic ’tinis that stand shoulder to shoulder with any modern creation.
According to Dale DeGroff, godfather of the modern cocktail revival, the French Martini was “one of the sparks that got the cocktail-as-Martini craze started.” A fruit-forward combination of vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, the French Martini dates back to 1996 when DeGroff himself debuted the drink at restaurateur Keith McNally’s Pravda, in New York City. It wasn’t until the following year, however, when it hit the menu at McNally’s buzzy Balthazar, that the drink really took off. Though it has been one of the last ’tinis to enjoy a modern revival, the French Martini has become a regular bar menu fixture.
The current ’tini revival owes much to the seemingly innocuous Espresso Martini. Originally known as the Vodka Espresso when it was created by legendary British bartender Dick Bradsell in 1980s London, the drink quickly assumed the moniker by which it’s still known, despite objections from Bradsell himself, a Martini purist. Under the Espresso Martini name, the drink has become a Trojan horse for the ’tini’s second coming. With its meteoric rise—including the emergence of perhaps its most unhinged offshoot, the Parmesan Espresso Martini—the modern classic has, along the way, become as ubiquitous as it is reviled.
Like all of its ’tini brethren, this provocatively named cocktail, created at London’s Townhouse in 2003, is a Martini in name only. Though the drink’s creator, the late Douglas Ankrah, may not be a household name, his contribution to the modern cocktail canon certainly is; it, too, has become a modern classic. A 2021 report analyzing more than 100 million Google searches revealed that the Pornstar Martini was the most searched-for cocktail in the world, with nearly twice as much interest as the Piña Colada. Made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and passion fruit purée, the final flourish is a shot glass of chilled Champagne served alongside the drink.
The onetime ubiquity of artificially flavored coconut rums like Malibu and Parrot Bay gave rise to a bevy of fruity drinks like the Bikini Martini. But Peter Canny recognized something special in the pink, vodka-based cocktail when he was introduced to it decades ago as a club bartender. Now heading up the beverage program at Madeline’s Martini in New York City, Canny revisited the recipe for the cocktail bar’s debut menu, giving the Bikini Martini a refresh by way of fat-washed coconut rum, housemade grenadine and fresh pineapple juice.
Created in 1997 at London’s Met Bar in the Metropolitan Hotel, Ben Reed’s Pineapple Martini was a sensation for its novel use of freshly squeezed juice. The addition of lime juice to bolster the acidity of the pineapple was ahead of its time, making the Pineapple Martini one of the more famous fruit-forward ’tinis of the era. Today, the drink’s simple formula remains a crowd-pleasing call drink and a popular template for easy experimentation.