FDR’s Reverse Martini

Credit line: From Dinner with the President by Alex Prud’homme. Copyright © 2023 by Alex Prud’homme. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


When is a martini not exactly a martini? When it is a reverse martini, which is sometimes called an upside-down martini or wet martini.

The recipe for this tempting cocktail reverses the standard ratios by combining one part gin to five parts extra-dry (white) vermouth, garnished with an enlivening twist of lemon. Smooth, sophisticated, and only vaguely alcoholic, the reverse martini is more of a classic aperitif than a bone-dry James Bond thriller.

Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to global summits with a special martini kit and liked to add olive brine or absinthe to his cocktails. He once served a standard (two parts gin to one part vermouth) martini— garnished with both a lemon twist and an olive— to Joseph Stalin, who described it as “cold on the stomach but not unpleasant.” Curtis Roosevelt, a grandson, declared the president’s martinis “the worst” tasting, though FDR liked them so much that he was known to have more than one, and burst into college fight songs while Secret Service agents bundled him off to bed.

Julia and Paul Child were also fans of the reverse martini. It was one of their favorite predinner pick- me- ups, which they sipped at all times of the year, though they didn’t sing fight songs afterward. Indeed, Julia appreciated the cocktail’s light touch, and noted, “The best thing about a reverse martini is you can have two of them.”

— Ingredients —
5 parts extra- dry vermouth
1 part gin

Garnish with a strip of lemon rind
— Preparation —

Pour the vermouth and gin over ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir well (“40 times,” some insist). Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, such as a coupe. Twist a strip of lemon over the drink and drop it into your glass. Take a sip and, as James Beard said, “feel the glow.” À votre santé!