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Apparently, your choice of hooch says a lot about you. I never gave it much thought until a couple of weeks ago, when I went into a bar and ordered one of my old standbys: a vodka and Coke. “Oh!” the barely legal-looking bartender exclaimed, giggling under her breath. “That reminds me of college!”

Which got me to thinking about my other drink of habit: the margarita. If vodka-Coke screams, “Sorority sis!” then the margarita – according to the bible of hooch culture, Modern Drunkard Magazine – says that all my relationships “began and ended with a wet t-shirt contest.” And that was when I decided that I need a classier, more sophisticated signature drink. One that doesn’t say, “Here, you don’t even have to ask. Just look at ’em.” Rather: “Wet t-shirt contest?! Why, you scum, please take yourself from my presence before I have you physically and violently removed by every other guy in the bar.”

Enter: one of my sassy friends, who one night recently ordered a vodka martini, dirty, with extra olives and gave me a sip. Ah! I thought. My new favorite. And it comes with a snack. Since then, it’s been all dirty, all the time. Thing is, everywhere you go in the 817, you’ll get a different recipe. At Hoffbrau Steaks’ Arlington location, you get two big shiny olives – they’re as perfectly spherical as a certain cute bartender’s shaved head – and a good shot of brine. At “Eight-O,” a.k.a. 8.0 Bar and Café, the dirty vodka martini is pretty much straight-up vodka, no olive brine at all. But you get three olives, impaled on the classic plastic sword. (During Monday happy hours, “Eight-O”‘s bad boy runs a meager $4.)

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The long and short answer is that bartenders here, at least the pros, are gonna put their own spins on the classic. Weekly scribe Caroline Collier, who’s tended bar at a lot of local lounges, says that all martinis should start with three olives. Two olives, according to her interpretation of bar lore, is bad luck. “If someone asks me for extra olives, I’d give them two skewers with three olives each,” she said.

The Weekly’s 2006 Best Of critic’s choice for best bartender and 2008’s critic’s choice for best subject for cryogenic preservation, Matt Layton, was more specific. “If asked for a dirty martini,” he said, “my first question would be, ‘How dirty do you like it? Are we talking Pamela Anderson-dirty or full-on Jenna Jameson?’

“If the customer is more Jenna than Pam,” continued the Bar 9 ‘tender, “I would pour about three ounces of Ketel One into a shaker tin with an ounce of olive juice and beat the hell out of that thing until it was frosted on the outside. I then would strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass and, if extra olives were requested, would load two skewers with two Spanish Queens apiece and place them in the glass.”
(Layton went on to say that blue cheese- or jalapeño-stuffed olives are “for assholes and/or Dallasites, who are basically the same people.” Have a little respect for yourself and your palate when ordering a martini, he said, and just go for the classic. “The last thing you want is a bartender judging you by your preferences,” he said, “and – believe me – we do judge. Your taste or lack thereof may spell the difference between how fast – or if – you get another drink.”)

Most of the ‘tinis I’ve tried have been in the general ballpark of “above-average to excellent,” though I’d have to say that the tastiest I’ve had so far came from Mac’s on 7th in Montgomery Plaza: two skewers with three olives apiece and a good shot of olive brine. Who’s the wet t-shirt contest queen now, huh?! (Don’t answer that.)

Contact Last Call at lastcall@fwweekly.com.

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