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Despite a determined putsch by adherents of the gin martini, the cocktail Winston Churchill and James Bond sipped to fame nowadays is defined only by its distinctive conical stemware. Becoming a universal icon for happy hour is pretty good consolation for surrendering your singular identity, but I sympathize with tipplers who prefer a clean iteration — especially in the humidity of early summer, when more just seems like too much.

It also seems wrong when a culture that’s been deified in the U.S. as the pinnacle of elegant minimalism is called upon to justify martini violations better suited to an umbrella than an olive. A “quintessential sake martini” made with gin and Curacao? No, thank you. A Zen Martini made with Absolut Citron infused with green tea? I must decline.

But it’s un-American to eschew progress or better international relations in the name of purity. Leave it to New York to solve the dilemma, drawing on its business-minded melting-pot muscle for the beautifully austere Mott Street Martini, named for Chinatown’s main drag and served at the Iroquois’s Triomphe restaurant and bar. Although you need to prepare a day ahead, the Mott Street is a breeze to concoct, and it makes you an instant black-belt in the homemade-vodka-infusion school.

— Elaine Wolff

Cucumber-Infused Vodka

Peel and dice one large cucumber per liter of vodka — “any brand,” said the Iroquois’s bartender in a disarming French accent. I used economical Smirnoff. Put the cucumber and vodka in a covered glass container and let sit at least 24 hours before cocktailing. Strain as you use, leaving the cucumbers to continue flavoring the remaining vodka.

Mott Street Martini

To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add:

2 parts cucumber-infused vodka

1 part sake (“any brand” the bartender said, again; I used Gekkeikan)

the juice of one half lemon per two martinis


Shake well, or stir if you prefer, and strain into well-chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a cucumber wedge if you must.

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March 25, 2020


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