Happy Hour: Martini Style

by Gabrielle Balzell

Three Peoria drinking holes and a trio of thirst-quenching cocktails…

E.B. White called it “the elixir of quietude,” and H.L. Mencken once declared it “the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.” It’s bound to show up in just about any Hemingway novel, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond character preferred his shaken, not stirred.

The martini is the quintessential American cocktail, and for decades, was the drink of choice among everyone from politicians and movie stars to businessmen and housewives. While the libation briefly fell out of favor in the latter part of the 20th century, it has since made the ultimate comeback, undergoing a transformative renaissance resulting in new, bold flavors and unique twists on this classic drink.

Looking to investigate the re-emergence of the martini locally, CIBP oh so begrudgingly filed out of the office and into the bars, searching for three of the best martinis in town. This is what we found…

The White Widow
An autumn favorite, this spider-inspired martini served up at One World Cafe features Patrón XO Café liqueur shaken up with vanilla vodka, dark crème de cocoa and One World’s iced cappuccino—resulting in a deliciously caffeinated cocktail. Topped off with a web-like chocolate drizzle, One World co-owner Sam Eid says this buzzed beverage is perfect for coffee lovers looking to relax with a sweet and refreshing, drinkable dessert.

“It has a bolder coffee flavor,” he describes. “It’s not heavy [or] syrupy… It’s creamy. It’s an espresso kind of flavor and it’s chocolaty.”

While the White Widow is a hot item around Halloween, it’s offered year-round along with other popular sellers like the Cosmo and, Eid’s personal favorite, the Pineapple Upside Down Cake martini. View One World’s complete beverage menu online at oneworld-cafe.com.

The Classic Gin Martini
If you just want a good, stiff drink without all the bells and whistles, look no further than Tavern on Prospect. A self-described “old-style” bartender, owner Jeff Stevenson believes a classic gin martini to be simplicity at its finest.

“You’ll have one and you’ll understand the complexity,” he says of the drink, which features a clean, crisp and explosive botanical flavor. “It’s a drink that you’ve got to respect.”

Though it contains just two ingredients—gin and vermouth—Stevenson claims the original martini is an extremely versatile drink that can be made any number of ways, from dry to sweet to extra sweet to perfect and more. While Stevenson prefers to kick back with a London dry gin martini with a twist, Tavern on Prospect also serves up a variety of other traditional options, such as Manhattans and Sidecars, as well as modern martinis flavored like salty pretzel, cupcake and Grape Crush soda. Learn more about “the nicest tavern in town” at tavernonprospect.net.

The Sun Splash
Like a tropical getaway in a glass, the vibrant Sun Splash martini from Martini’s On Water Street combines Smirnoff orange vodka, Cointreau, sweet and sour mix, and a bit of orange and cranberry juice to mix up a delightfully fruity, potent aperitif.

“It’s a good starter martini because it’s not too harsh,” explains Jamie Jo Lutes, head bartender at Martini’s. She says the refreshing citrus cocktail is owner Marty Walgenbach’s favorite out of the more than 150 specialty martinis served at the train station-turned-martini bar. Other best-sellers include the Almond Joy, Bloody-tini, S’more and Bomb Pop. (CIBP President Jan Wright enjoyed sipping on a French Pear martini during our taste test, while our production coordinator, Darren Jackson, and I delighted in our respective Mango-tini and German Chocolate Cake cocktail. All in the name of research!)

Regardless of the flavor, Lutes says, a martini is a great way to unwind and bring some delectable nostalgia to happy hour. “I think it’s a lot easier to sit down and relax with one… Everybody always likes the stem on the glass. It just feels a little classier and a little grander, and it makes your drinks feel a little more special.” Find all of Martini’s offerings and specials at martinisonwater.com. a&s