Hoping to strike it rich during the gold rush of the 1870s, a miner dropped in at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco while on his way to Martinez, California. The man asked the bartender to shake up something special, but little did he realize the chap behind the bar was Jerry Thomas, locally known as "The Professor", thanks to his passion for concocting new drinks.
The Professor blended two ounces of sweet vermouth with one ounce of gin. He then added two dashes of maraschino cherry liqueur and one dash of bitters. Shaken with ice, it is said it was served with either a twist of lemon or a cherry. Thomas christened his sweet concoction the "martinez".
Thomas's creation bears little relation to the dry, crystal clear version served today. The martinez's transformation started 40-odd years later, in 1911 , at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York. Here the barman, Martini di Arma di Taggia, mixed equal quantities of London Dry gin with Noilly Prat vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. He strained the drink into a chilled glass, added an olive and not-so-modestly named the variation a "martini".
Ironically, prohibition, introduced in the US in 1920, played a major role in boosting the martini's popularity. Whiskey was traditionally America's preferred spirit but bootleggers found it too great a challenge to distil and age. Gin was an easier option as it didn't require ageing or skilful blending. During this period, gin became the most fashionable and readily available spirit in speak-easies so gin cocktails, such as martinis, grew in popularity.
During the '40s and '50s, bitters disappeared from the martini recipe and dry vermouth replaced sweet vermouth.
Thanks to Smirnoff's marketing gurus, from the 1940s, vodka was sometimes used in place of gin, although purists insist this is unacceptable martini etiquette.
The past decade has seen a martini resurgence, with myriad variations appearing on cocktail menus in bars across the world. But be warned: experts insist no one will assume you have James Bond's elegance, Frank Sinatra's style or Dorothy Parker's wit unless you order the classic version.