In Search Of: The 3-Martini Lunch

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

Today, in honor of Lunch Week here at The Kitchn, we're setting out in search of a legendary beast of days gone by, that Bigfoot of the corner office: The Three-Martini Lunch.

How Did They Do It?

How ever did those Mid-century, Mad Men-type business execs manage to swing it? Made mostly of gin (or, if you prefer, vodka) with a measure of dry vermouth mixed in (and, okay, that little bit of dilution that comes from stirring it with ice), the Martini is one bracing beverage. There's no soda, no fruit juice, no syrup, no ice cubes to lighten things up. It's all booze.

Have of these in the middle of a workday and you probably won't find yourself at your most productive when you get back to your desk. But three? How is that even imaginable?

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Size Matters

Well, it's all about portion sizes. Along with everything else in America, cocktails have become supersized over the years. Originally designed to be short, stiff drinks that could be consumed quickly enough to stay icy cold til the finish, they've since ballooned to birdbath-like proportions.

If you look at the pic directly above, you'll see a cocktail glass from the 1940s (left) alongside one I purchased at a big chain retailer last year (right). While the modern glass holds a hefty 10 ounces of liquid, the vintage glass holds a scant 4 when filled to its brim (many others of the same era held 3 ounces or even 2). In this lies the answer: Three Martinis from the late 50s/early 60s were the rough equivalent of a one Martini as portioned in many American bars and restaurants today - perhaps not a recipe for success in most modern work environments, but manageable enough to leave a Mad Man standing.

(Sidenote: If you'd like to see these smaller cocktail glasses in action, there's no better place to look than classic film: check out The Thin Man (1934), All About Eve (1950), Sabrina (1954), North by Northwest (1959), and The Apartment (1960) for some great Martini- (and Gibson-) sipping scenes.)

What are your thoughts on the Three-Martini Lunch?

Related: Living With Mismatched and (Mostly) Vintage Glassware

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

(Images: Nora Maynard)