After learning that Ian Fleming's famous spy, James Bond, is based on a real-life "should-be-more-famous-than-he-is" spy from Winnipeg (William Stephenson), we decided to go on a quest for the perfect 007 martini. What we learned along the way is that this city is an ideal place to find a cozy corner in a sumptuous, stylin' lounge and hatch a plan to attack a list of bars where martinis rule the free world.
Lounge at The Fairmont Winnipeg
We knew we were in the perfect place when the first thing noticed at the table, in this stylishly luxe lounge, was a cocktail menu entitled Classic Cocktails with a martini on the cover. And thanks to the knowledgeable bartender, education in the creation of a classic martini cocktail began.
The famous martini Bond orders in Fleming's first James Bond novel, which he named the trés chic Vesper, is made up of three measures Gordon's gin, one of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet. Kina Lillet hasn't been made since 1986, so, in fact, we will never again be able to indulge in 007's heady concoction. Instead, the bartender prepared what is considered to be the ‘it' martini - without any candy-coloured fruit juices, of course. The key, we're told, is knowing when to keep it simple."
- Use only vodka or gin and a choice of garnish - no vermouth
The spirit and glass have to be cold
A quality glass is not only nice but necessary in order to keep the drink cold and to open up the alcohol
For those who want a martini, but one not quite so serious, we recommend the well-named "Very Sexy" martini. It's a scrumptious cocktail made with citron vodka, Crème de Cassis and freshly-made (a Fairmont mandate) sour mix. Fabulous and found only here.
The lounge at 529 Wellington, a classic Winnipeg steakhouse in a converted mansion, is small and cozy - full of dark wood and traditional brass fixtures. This lounge doesn't have a cocktail list; drinks are ordered and made to measure. Cocktails are often invented on the spot according to a customer's personal preferences by experienced bartenders. We indulge in a customized creation of vodka, gin and lemon peel. The taste is smooth and refined, perfectly fitting with the surroundings.
Rae & Jerry's Steakhouse
The lounge at Rae & Jerry's is bright retro cherry red and packed to the gills with young and old ordering martinis and Manhattans, the lounge's specialties. This is where one goes for a serious martini - no cocktail menus to be found. The bartender makes us his favourite - one part vodka, one part gin and a half-part of vermouth - and it is, indeed, shaken not stirred. Delectable, with the largest olives known to man added to the glass. A tip? Don't shake the martini so much that it bruises the alcohol. Apparently one can taste when this happens.
Our conclusions? Getting to know the perfect martini is a bit like wine tasting - there's a lot to know and, ultimately, it comes down to personal choice. Winnipeg certainly delivers on the classic martini (as well as some mighty fine martini variations) - all worthy of spymaster James Bond, 007 - in smart, plush surroundings full of style. Can we choose which martini is the best? No, and not even James Bond, a man most particular about his beverage of choice, could choose between these lovelies.
For more information on Winnipeg's connection to master spy Sir William Stephenson, visit The Intrepid Society.