The Espresso Martini Revival Doesn’t Deserve Your Backlash

While some bartenders hate the drink and some customers are a bit annoying about it, this is not the "Four Loko of our times."

A barista/bartender prepping an espresso martini. The '90s drink staple has made a return, to the regret of some bartenders.
The perfectly fine but currently maligned espresso martini
Ivan Pantic / Getty Images

The espresso martini is having a moment, and apparently it’s not going over so well with some bartenders.

That’s the conclusion reached by Chris Crowley at Grub Street, who does a nice job summarizing the latest drinks trend that is causing some consternation at New York bars due to its mixture of hot and cold ingredients and the increased demand for a cocktail that actually takes a bit of time to prepare properly.

Most importantly, a good espresso martini requires an espresso machine, which is severely lacking in New York bars. “I wouldn’t say there’s a drink I hate making, but I think it’s universally accepted that the best espresso martinis are made with real espresso, which a lot of people don’t have on hand, so it’s like, read the room,” as Night Moves bartender Orlando Franklin McCray told Grub Street.

Still, the media bandwagon behind this cocktail’s revival — we already went through this in the ’90s — is tending to focus on the wrong thing; this is not the vodka Red Bull or Four Loko of our times, even if the bar clientele suddenly ordering these buzzy tipples does seem to occasionally, uh, fit a type.

It’s a good coffee/liquor drink that does provide a bit of a caffeine kick, but it’s certainly more elevated than a boozy energy drink. A good espresso martini will showcase the coffee’s flavor, too.

A few of the issues mentioned in the Grub Street feature can be solved quite easily: Customers, if the venue you’re in doesn’t have an espresso machine, don’t order an espresso martini. And bars that do offer the drink: follow the lead of at Café Altro Paradiso in Soho, where the bar staff batches its espresso ahead of time. Or don’t offer the drink, or limit it to certain quieter hours of the day (hey, how about brunch?).

Meanwhile, when you get back to traveling, I suggest a visit down to Australia if you’re an espresso martini fan. You’ll find that drink everywhere (dive bars, cafes, upscale mixology hubs, etc.) and every venue seems to own a fancy espresso machine. They’ll be happy to make you one. Or three.

And NYC bars? As bartender Ella Downs rightly tells Grub Street, “It just feels like the Aperol Spritz of 2021.” Meaning, at some point, the buzz is going to die down.


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