If anybody deserved a signature cocktail it was legendary bon vivant Dean Martin.
Dino, who would have turned 99 today, was, of course, an integral member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack--and that’s not to mention producing dozens of hit songs and staring in a range of television shows and movies, including 16 screwball comedies with partner Jerry Lewis.
Martin was also no stranger to bars, like Sinatra. He supposedly worked as a teenage in Prohibition speakeasies in his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, including a stint as a croupier.
While Ol’ Blue Eyes was a very strict Jack Daniel’s drinker, as the story goes, Martin was generally a whiskey drinker and was in need of his own tipple.
However, James Kaplan, author of Dean and Me: (A Love Story) and Sinatra: The Chairman, is quick to point out that Martin’s well-known public drunkenness was for much of his career a shtick, which he started in the late 1950s after his partnership with Lewis ended. In fact, Martin was usually actually drinking apple juice on stage.
One night in 1970, as he was wont to do, he was drinking at celebrity hangout Chasen’s, the historic Los Angeles restaurant, which was started by New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross and failed comedian Dave Chasen in 1936 and stayed open for 59 years. (A New Yorker obituary for the establishment didn’t underplay its cultural importance and called it “a restaurant that has meant to Hollywood what Maxim’s has to Paris and “21” to New York.”)
Martin was talking to Chasen’s long-serving bartender Pepe Ruiz “and he was sick of drinking the same Martini all the time and he was like “Pepe don’t you have something different?,” says Robert Pulcini who directed the documentary Off the Menu - The Last Days of Chasen’s with his wife Shari Springer Berman. (It was the first of many movies the couple co-directed, including the Oscar-nominated American Splendor.) After all, the restaurant was a good place for a celeb to find a signature recipe: it was where the non-alcoholic Shirley Temple was dreamed up for the child star.
Ruiz’s two major twists on the standard Martini recipe, according to famous bartender Dale DeGroff’s book The Essential Cocktail, was that he replaced the traditional dry vermouth with some very dry sherry, which he used to coat the inside of a cocktail glass.
The other interesting step was that Ruiz dramatically flamed large orange peels over the empty glass, which covered it with a film of toasted orange flavor. The oils in the zest of an orange are flammable and the burst of fire can not only add a dash of citrus but also a bit of excitement to a drink’s preparation.
Ruiz would then shake some vodka with ice and strain it into the prepared glass. To maximize the orange quotient he would flame a final piece of orange peel over the finished drink.
“There was a drama, there was a showmanship to it,” says Springer Berman. At Chasen’s, “the food wasn’t just about the food. And the drink wasn’t just about the drink. It was about the performance.”
It quickly became a staple. “Heaven,” is how Barbara Sinatra described how it tasted in her book, Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank.
There was one small problem. Once the other celebrities saw Martin and his friends drinking the cocktail it, like the Hobo Steak and the Snowball dessert, became a signature of the restaurant. And “it takes a really long time to make, so it would cause a huge backup at the bar,” says Springer Berman. “The waiters were like, ‘That damn Flame of Love it takes forever.’”
The Flame of Love
1 dash Tio Pepe Sherry
2 oz Vodka
Add a bit of sherry to a cocktail glass and swirl it around. Pour out any excess. Then flame two large orange peels over the glass. Add the vodka to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into the prepared glass. Flame a final piece of orange peel over the finished drink and add it as a garnish.
Based on the recipe in Dale DeGroff’s book The Essential Cocktail