The drone of the road, a cooling stickiness behind the knees, and the acerbic savour of sweat: this is summer in the city, alone, with a glass. Forget sugar-sweet Pimms with its flaccid flotsam of cucumber and rind. I’ll have none of your cartoonish neon fruity froth with innuendo-laden name. The dirty martini is the only cocktail for the discerning Englishman or woman in the precious dog days of our year.
We’re talking dirty. Really dirty. This is no time for your colonial Bond classic, your streamlined Churchillian silver bullet, or your silky Somerset Maugham, stirred so as not to bruise the gin. Summer is the season for their roguish, roughed up cousin who filches juniper berries down a country lane with scabs on his knees and a sour, disenchanted smile. The gin-spiked brine of a dirty martini captures all the true, salty tastes of native estivation, from the gritty chill of childhood mornings endured on an east coast beach to the tarmac tartness of a long afternoon spent lingering on a polluted Soho street. Particularly potent late in the season as the days retreat into an idealised, nostalgic haze, its smoky aftertaste exactly smacks of our grey, receding sea.
For in the limping wet wreck of late August, in a soft Kilgour man’s shirt, patent Prada heels and a cheap midnight blue straw hat, I drank a perfect drink. It didn’t matter that the bar outside which I stood was smug Shoreditch at its worst; nor even that the drink was pretty badly made. With dusk falling urban and unlovely around me, with the sweet, heady stink of petrol and street-strewn jerk chicken in my nose, with dust in my eyes and a saline burn at the back of my throat, I knew: this is English summer in a lipsticked glass, and I never want it to end.