The martini was born in a bathtub. Or at least that's one way the origin story goes. During the Prohibition era, gin was easier and faster to make than time-intensive barrel-aged whiskey. After bathtub gin made some people blind, they started cutting it with vermouth. Thus, the martini was born.
That's one of the many things my boyfriend, Harry, and I learned at Cure Cocktail, a hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar that's a stone's throw from Harry's apartment on Capitol Hill. I had bought him a cocktail-making class at Cure for Christmas. Doing hands-on classes is when we have the most fun together, like when we did a tea tasting or took a blacksmithing class.
Cure Cocktail is quaint and cozy. There were lights casting a dim yellow glow on a wall of rain-spattered windows. Harry and I looked at each other as the host guided us to our seats. "We should come back here all the time," he said.
We took our seats at the bar—or, as it was known during the class, Joe's corner.
Joe Wargo—who was selected as one of Seattle's best bartenders in a Stranger popular-vote contest—is affable, easy to talk to, and easy to learn from.
Wargo does these classes every Wednesday. There are three drinks taught per class. Every month, the class changes. There have been coffee-themed classes (flaming Spanish coffee, coffee martini, a coffee old-fashioned), a brunch cocktail class, one that taught Moscow mules and sweet and sours, and more. It costs $35 per person and lasts an hour and a half.
Tonight, we were making martinis. I gulped. I didn't know anything about martinis except that my stepdad and James Bond both like them. (That is where the similarities between my stepdad and James Bond end.)
The class was structured around different types of martinis: the classic, the vodka martini, and the Vesper martini (otherwise known as the Bond martini). We got to sample Joe's version of each one.
Wargo walked us through the steps a bartender takes to make the drink, flashy pours and all. The classic martini is almost too easy: two ounces of gin (which is a four-second pour) and a splash of vermouth (less of this makes a martini dry). Add ice, then shake until the shaker is dripping with condensation. During our hands-on shaking practice, I accidentally handed the shaker back to Harry when it was full of ice. He flipped it upside down to start shaking his drink and ice spilled everywhere. I wish it was intentional.
We were taught how to use a whole gamut of bartending tools—shakers, pourers, jiggers, stirrers, etc. We practiced pouring techniques using alcohol bottles filled with water. We tested our techniques against the rest of the class. Despite eyeballing the exact amount of a shot glass with his practice pours, Harry crumbled under the pressure when it was his turn to show his skills to Wargo. I wasn't even in the running. During my turn, Wargo gently recorrected how I was holding the bottle.
At the end, we got to choose which version of the martini we wanted to make. I picked the original. Harry picked the Vesper (vodka, gin, Lillet blanc aperitif, and a lemon twist). His was delicious. Mine was terrible—it was like 90 percent vermouth. That's how they made it back in the day, until World War II made vermouth (produced in either Italy or France) hard to come by, and the dry martini was born. I'd like to think I was just being true to history.
"Should we hit the liquor store on the way back and buy a shaker?" Harry asked. "I think we could get really good at this."
"Maybe tomorrow," I replied.
We left a little tipsy and rosy-cheeked and walked arm-in-arm back to his apartment, where we looked up the availability for February's classes on old-fashioneds.