SPOILER ALERT: References to the final episode of Succession ahead!
In our final glimpse of Roman Roy, the man-child son of media mogul Logan Roy on the hit show Succession, he’s sitting alone at a chic Manhattan bar, a freshly poured martini in front of him.
He gazes at the cocktail like a lover and smiles slightly. Is he wistful? Pained? Relieved?
Roman and his siblings have just lost control of their father’s company, Waystar Royco. When a scion’s world goes topsy-turvy, what’s there to do but get tipsy? He lifts the glass, brings the liquid to his lips and sucks it back. Cut!
That’s it for Roman Roy, played by Kieran Culkin in four stunning seasons on HBO. Fans of the show know his choice of a martini isn’t a fluke. It’s an homage to Waystar’s general counsel Gerri Kellman, the woman Roman calls a “stone-cold killer bitch” in the show’s first episode.
Roman has a perverse flirtation with Gerri, played by the smooth J. Smith-Cameron, a masterful mama figure 25 years Roman’s senior. She can be as sharp and chilly as a frosted glass – and as fiery as a shot of Smirnoff. Gerri’s “got a cold mercenary objectivity about her,” Smith-Cameron told Entertainment Weekly. Of course, nothing says “stone-cold-killer-B of the C Suite” like a martini.
Let Don Draper of Mad Men cradle his Scotch. Gerri basks in the glow of a glass shaped like a bullet bra.
Martinis are sexy, sophisticated, strong and simple, requiring only the best ingredients. If you order one, the bartender will ask: gin or vodka? Gin is the classic — make it dry, please — but vodka martinis have gained popularity since the 1950s. Throw in a lemon twist or a few olives, and that’s it — unless you go the traditional route and add a splash of vermouth.
I skip the vermouth myself, preferring the style stirred by Hollywood’s oldest and celeb-iest venue, Musso & Frank Grill, which has been pouring martinis for 124 years. Musso’s martinis are served stirred, not shaken — sorry, James Bond — and in the style of Winston Churchill, who filled his glass with gin, waved an unopened bottle of vermouth overhead and bowed in the direction of France.
My preferred martini is “Grey Goose extra dry with a twist,” which means forget the vermouth and squeeze a generous lemon rind along the rim, then twist it into the glass. Each sip is infused with the scent of citrus, the burn of vodka — and a lust for power. I’m Gerri in blue jeans. Don’t mess with me!
At least I’m not yet Dorothy Parker, who quipped: “I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three, I'm under the table. After four, I'm under my host.”
James Bond is the most famous martini-swilling character in movies, of course. But it’s actresses who use a ’tini or two to sharpen their wits.
In one of filmdom’s most iconic scenes, in 1950’s All About Eve, Margo Channing (played by the stone-cold Bette Davis) tosses back a martini — specifically, a Gibson martini, adorned with pickled onions instead of olives — then cracks: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
That scene simply would not work if Margo had chugged a beer. “A woman who orders a martini knows what she wants, and she knows how to ask for it,” says bartender Travis Jarrett, who recently poured me a martini at Stella’s in Richmond, Virginia. Grey Goose. Extra dry. Twist.
How about the way the ultimate bad gal, Beth Dutton of TV’s Yellowstone, played by Kelly Reilly, delivers her order?
Beth: “Double Tito’s, three olives.
Waitress: “You mean a martini?”
Beth: “Nope. Martinis have vermouth and are enjoyed with friends. I don’t like vermouth, and these aren’t my friends.”
No pomegranate martinis, basil-infused martinis or even dirty martinis (the dirt comes from olive brine) for stone-cold purists like Beth, Gerri and me. The myriad martini variations rated a story this year in The New York Times headlined “The Martini Has Lost Its Mind.” In Manhattan, you can get a balsamic-dotted Caprese martini, an oyster mignonette martini or a squid ink martini.
Why would any true sophisticate want squid ink or balsamic in a martini? I prefer to drink like Nora Charles, the stylish detective played by Myrna Loy in the 1930s and 1940s The Thin Man movies. After one particularly bumpy night, Nora holds her head in her hands and asks her husband Nick (played by William Powell), “What hit me?” His response: “The last martini.”
How the first martini stirred its way into history is unclear, though recipes for the drink were published in bartender guides as early as 1862. To appreciate the cocktail’s past, there’s no better spot than Dukes Bar at Dukes hotel in London, where author Ian Fleming was inspired to write James Bond’s “Shaken, not stirred” line.
A Dukes martini is an event. All the ingredients — chilled glass, chilled gin or vodka, Sacred Vermouth made especially for Dukes, olives from Sicily and Amalfi lemons — are rolled to your table on a trolley. After you’ve sipped half of your custom cocktail, the waiter returns to pour your drink into a fresh, frosty glass.
“After my first Dukes martini, I considered never ordering vodka martinis again because perfection rarely repeats itself,” my friend Lynn Kalber said. “I got over that.” James Bond ordered both gin and vodka martinis — usually vodka — and sometimes a Vespers martini, made with gin, vodka, Kina Lillet and garnished with a twist.
Whatever booze you choose, a martini is more than a drink: it’s an invitation for witty banter and dramatic eye contact, which brings us back to Roman Roy and his lonely martini.
Succession recently scored 27 Emmy nominations, including a Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Culkin and a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Smith-Cameron. Alas, Culkin’s martini received no kudos — at least from Emmy voters.
The Emmy Awards will be held on January 15, 2024, at 8 p.m. ET.
Who out there loves a good martini? Let us know in the comments below.