Consider the paradoxical thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus: If the Athenians removed and replaced every plank of the ship of Theseus so that none of the original wood remained, would it still be the ship of Theseus? Or would it become a completely different ship?
Alternatively, take a dirty martini: gin, vermouth, olive brine and garnish. But swap the traditional dry gin for one washed down with mirepoix. Use Manzanilla sherry instead of the vermouth, a solution of chicken stock and MSG instead of brine, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Is it still a dirty martini?
Jazzton Rodriguez, the creator of what he calls the chicken soup martini, believe it is. “People are starting to explore what the dirty martini may be, as a pattern,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who co-writes the blog. Very Good Drinks. His invention has attracted over 600,000 views across Instagram and TikTok.
The cocktail has many detractors. (“It’s not too late to get rid of this,” one wrote.) Then again, Mr. Rodriguez said, “there were people who were like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never wanted to drink more than this.’ “
Internet trends may be fleeting and merely virtual, but bizarre martinis are out in the real world, served at real bars to real, paying customers. In New York, drinkers can find a basil-infused, balsamic-dotted Caprese martini at Jac is on Bondoyster mignonette martini at that of Marradish water martini at Naro and a squid ink martini at American Express’ new Centurion Lounge.
At It is in Austin, Texas, you can order a martini made with muscadet wine and kombu seaweed, and Dear Madison in Chicago they serve a version with habanero mezcal and lime juice. One of the seven options on the martini menu at Dante Beverly Hills in Los Angeles includes tequila and cream of cocoa.
“Martinis are so hot right now,” said Bryan Schneider, the Manhattan restaurant’s creative director Bad Roman. To capitalize on the current fascination with salty, savory cocktails, he developed one with an Italian American edge: the pepperoncini martini. When diners come to the restaurant, he said, “It’s one of the main things people post about.”
Ryan Dolliver, the beverage director at Palmetto in Brooklyn, serves his take on the martini with pickled fennel and yuzu. “It’s basically a delicious, cold gin or vodka cocktail, but for shorthand, we call it a dirty martini,” Mr Dolliver said.
This is not a new phenomenon: Although the term is of recent production, the essence of the dirty martini – adding olive salami to the classic cocktail – dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Only a few decades later, drinkers began swapping gin for vodka—a practice still considered a mistake by martini purists.
In the 1980s and 90s, bars began slapping the “martini” label on any drink served straight up (shaken or stirred with ice, but served without it) in a V-shaped glass: The espresso martini, perhaps the most a famous example. , was created in London in the early 80s.
“We adapt our positions on what these things are to what customers believe,” Mr. Dolliver added.
Trevor Easton Langer, the bar manager who created the Caprese martini at Jac’s on Bond, agreed. “The word martini is not so much a hard and fast rule as it is a descriptor of how you will get the drink. It’s much less about the content and more about the glass.”
Not to mention the mystique. “It’s the hint of elegance, it’s the ceremony of ordering one,” said Alan Sytsma, the food editor of New York magazine and martini classicist who tried “too many” for the series “Absolute Best” of the magazine. “People want things that are understood as classic.”
When creating something new, Mr. Sytsma said, “you can either play with the ingredients, or you can play with the form. But when you start really deviating from these wild flavor combinations, and whatever form you make doesn’t immediately make sense to people, you lost the thread.”
Sheryl Heefner, the general manager of Supremacy Burger in New York, whose cocktail menu she described as “loge classic,” suspects that the manic accessorizing of the martini is born not of creativity, but of competition.
In a city with more than 20,000 restaurants, “it’s getting harder and harder not just to stay relevant, but to survive,” Ms. Heefner said. She believes that the drive to build edgier classics is “driven to be creative and come up with the next best thing to go on TikTok, or whatever it is.”
And just as there is no right answer to the riddle of the Ship of Theseus, there may be none to the question of what qualifies as a martini.
But there’s one thing most bartenders agree on: “Juice is maybe a little too far,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “If there’s juice in it, I’d be inclined to call it something else.”