I HAVE NEVER met a martini I did not like. Under no circumstances would I assert that any martini is as good as any other; my mind may be soaked, but not in rampant egalitarianism. I am willing to argue, however, that while the best martini demands to be called "perfect," the worst is nevertheless passable, and far better than no martini at all.
Surprisingly enough, so wondrous a drink has failed to spawn much of a literature that celebrates its wonders. It may well be that most sane men would rather drink martinis than read about them and would rather read about them than write about them. Yet that tempting explanation fails to satisfy, simply because martinis can be held in one hand, so that anyone who can talk and chew gum at the same time can just as well teach himself simultaneously to sip a martini and to read or write about it.
Nor will it do to contend that the absence of a library of works on the martini constitutes an undisguised blessing because writing about them would resemble what Leo Strauss once called "the loathsome business of explaining a joke." That was in another context and besides the great man's imposing list of virtues did not include a love of martinis. A mystique surrounds martinis, to be sure, but it does not suffer from an attempt at articulation. Indeed, for many of us the joy of drinking martinis is enhanced by talking about the joy of drinking martinis.
WHAT, THEN, can the matter be? The safest explanation takes into account the drink's youthfulness. The martini was born in the nineteenth century and has flourished--perhaps peaked--in ours. The occurrence of phenomena necessarily antedates their comprehension, as Hegel might have remarked, and no wise man tries to hurry history, as Adlai Stevenson did in fact maintain, so true understanding may have to await the fullness of time, to borrow Martin Luther's felicitous phrase.
For more of this classic essay, which originally appeared in the November 1981 issue of The American , click here.