Food & Drink

Local Bars Wake Up and Smell the Espresso Martini

Baltimore bartenders shed light on the stylish cocktail trend.
The espresso martini at Dutch Courage. —Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Move over Aperol Spritz, there’s a new buzzy cocktail in town. Well, really, an old cocktail that’s having a second moment thanks to our obsession with all things caffeinated.

“The espresso martini is trending again,” says Brendan Dorr, owner of Dutch Courage in Old Goucher. “Cocktails come in and out of style—bartenders love to look back at what was popular, even as recently as 20 years ago.”

The backstory on this unique martini, usually some combination of fresh espresso or coffee liqueur paired with vodka, simple syrup, and sometimes a pinch of salt, is now the stuff of legends. The story goes that in the 1980s, celebrity bartender Dick Bradsell of Soho Brasserie whipped up a drink for a model (rumored to be either Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell) who requested something that would “wake me up, and then f**k me up.” Using shots of vodka, freshly pulled espresso, and a little simple syrup, Bradsell obliged, dubbing the drink a “vodka espresso.”

“The drink didn’t truly take off until the 1990s, when everything started being served in a stemmed glass,” explains Andrew Nichols, head of mixology for the Atlas Restaurant Group, which is when it was named the “espresso martini.”

So why the comeback? “I see the espresso martini as a coming of age for the vodka and Red Bull crowd,” says Nichols. “It allows guests to get their caffeine boost without the stigma of ordering something typical of clubs and dive bars.”

With its coffee bean garnish floating on a cloud of foam, the cocktail is also a stylish statement. “It’s a fun drink,” says Dorr. “And it’s delicious.”

Apparently, others agree. The drink is featured on area cocktail menus including Duck Duck Goose, The Owl Bar, and La Scala.

“Several times a month, someone comes in and requests one,” says Dorr. But beware, the cocktail is contagious: “Whenever one person orders one, everyone at the table wants one.”