How Luis Buñuel Made a Perfectly Surreal Martini
The ground-breaking surrealist movies of director Luis Buñuel are staples of art house cinemas and film student dissertations—the eyeball-slicing in Un Chien Andalou remains an infamous classic cinema moment. Now, Buñuel’s Academy Award-winning work, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, is attracting a new type of student: bartenders.
At the center of the 1972 movie is a fantastical phenomenon that “a group of friends keeps trying to have dinner together but can’t seem to manage it,” explained Buñuel in his autobiography My Last Sigh.
But the scene in the film that attracts cocktail lovers, naturally, involves a character holding forth on the proper way to fix and drink a martini as he makes a round.
The recipe, sentiments and the strong opinions actually belong to Buñuel. “I must confess, too, how happy I was to be able to include my personal recipe for the dry martini,” Buñuel admitted in his book.
The martini, which for the record he liked to make with British gin, a few drops of Noilly Prat dry vermouth and a few dashes of Angostura bitters, garners a long entry and step-by-step instructions in his autobiography.
He seemed to realize that his treatise on the tipple might have been too much for many readers, conceding “For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results.”
Buñuel leaves no detail out, including his preference for super-cold ice cubes and freezing the glasses, the shaker and even the gin the day before your guests arrive. (To make sure that ice is suitably cold—20 degrees below zero centigrade—he suggests double-checking with a thermometer.)
So, is it any good to drink? “It’s too dry for my taste,” says Joaquín Simó, who was named American Bartender of the Year at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2012 and is co-founder of New York bar Pouring Ribbons. (He even created a gin, sherry, and curacao drink a few years ago inspired by Buñuel.) Simó prefers to make his martinis with more vermouth, “the notion of leaving out such a powerful flavor component makes no sense to me.”
No one would you blame you for thinking Buñuel at some point had worked behind a bar, but according to Rob Stone, editor of A Companion to Luis Buñuel and co-director of B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies, “he was never a professional bartender.” But that didn’t stop him from having “his theories about the Martini. He knew his stuff and he demanded perfect ice and one olive.”
Buñuel also had a few other favorite drinks. “After the dry martini comes one of my own modest inventions, the Buñueloni, best drunk before dinner,” he shared in his autobiography.
It’s, as you can imagine, a takeoff on the Negroni (generally equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari) and instead includes gin, Cinzano Rosso and Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth. “Here again, the gin—in sufficient quantity to ensure its dominance over the other two ingredients—has excellent effects on the imagination. I’ve no idea how or why; I only know that it works,” he wrote. (Quite an endorsement, given his wild imagination and unbridled creativity.)
In addition to the Buñueloni, novelist Carlos Fuentes reveals in his lengthy article, The Discreet Charm of Luis Buñuel, published in the New York Times on March 11, 1973, that the director also liked to make what he called a Yves Tanguy.
The concoction, no doubt named for the surrealist French painter, was a mix of “Fernet-Branca, grenadine, stout, and plenty of ice.” To be honest, you probably should skip this one and stick with his other two creations.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie may soon be discovered by a much wider audience. Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim and famed playwright David Ives are working on a new musical for the New York’s Public Theater inspired by it as well as another of Buñuel’s works, The Exterminating Angel. I just hope his personal martini recipe gets its own number in the show.
2 oz Gin
2 drops Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters,
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the vermouth and bitters. Shake and then strain off. any liquid. Add the gin to the seasoned ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with one olive.