Have a seat at any reasonably populated, low-lit, reclaimed-wood bar in Brooklyn, and it's a safe bet that within five minutes you'll hear a quietly confident 20- or 30-something man sidle up and order an Old Fashioned or a whiskey ginger. Ditto if you were at a slick restaurant bar on Wall Street, waiting for a suited investment banker to order a Scotch neat, or maybe a gin and tonic on a warm day. But were any of these drinks served to the male drinker in a martini glass rimmed with pink sugar (and perhaps a decorative zigzag stem), or in a champagne flute with a gold base and a sprig of lavender, it would likely result in a visible recoil and flush of embarrassment.
A recent Business Insider article explores how Wall Street businessmen approach drink-ordering with an innate set of unspoken rules—deviation from which will result in either direct verbal shaming or general scorn that probably manifests in behind-your-back snickering. One such mandate, according to veteran trader Dan Nathan, is that "Guys get made fun of when they drink anything from a martini glass." Cue imagery of a circle of red-faced suits pointing and guffawing at the sight of a colleague with a Cosmopolitan or appletini. (An exception might be made for a visually identifiable dry martini.) But as much as this might make sense now in a post-Sex and the City world, it hasn't always been the case for the martini glass.
Martinis were once considered the manly drank of manly drinks; need I mention James Bond? In the 1950s and 1960s, three-martini lunches were commonplace—if not encouraged—in male-dominated industries. But in the 1980s, we began to settle down as rehab facilities sprung up more and more to take in the alcoholics who had previously self-identified as just "heavy drinkers." That's not to say that the martini, and what it represents, were abandoned, but it fell out of favor and was replaced by less potent beverages. The now eye-roll-inducing wine cooler did, after all, have its moment.
And then came the earnestness of the late 90s—which now causes us to cringe at reruns of Party of Five—when cocktail culture slowly rose into the mainstream before the "craft" element became affixed in our vocabularies. It's a bit awkward to admit that Carrie Bradshaw had such a profound effect on the way that all Americans imbibe, but the pale pink, vodka-triple sec-cranberry-lime drink—the Cosmopolitan, served up, of course—quickly became exceedingly popular (despite being decades old), followed only a few years later by a reputation of being gauche and passé. Now it's the butt of jokes, conjuring the taste of your fake-blonde cousin who wears Juicy Couture sweatsuits.
One could surmise that it was around this time, in the mid-2000s, that the martini glass became viewed as an arguably "girly" thing, maybe with a few exceptions for specific, strong cocktails. "Is Glassware a Barrier to Cocktail Acceptance?", a 2007 article from Art of Drink, argues that "The martini glass seems to be one of those glasses that looks OK for both genders if it contains a Manhattan, martini, or other neutral-coloured liquid. But Cosmopolitans don't work for both." A year later, a thread on Yelp asks, "When did the martini glass become girly?" Many mentions of Cosmos are made in the responses, though one user, Zizi B., remarks that "A man can't drink a martini without someone thinking it's a lemon drop." Even the martini was no longer safe, bearing too close of a resemblance to something sweet and fruity. And with the growing popularity of flavored vodkas, the chance was ever-higher that it might be, despite its clarity. Those olives won't fool us; that could be a cotton candy-tini in there.
Another—and perhaps more interesting—bias about the martini glass is that its actual shape is overly feminine. The aforementioned Art of Drink article notes that "Girls can get away with drinking from any glass, especially the Poco glass, which has the complimentary curves that were obviously designed to represent women. … Does the curve-less Collins glass represent men?" (Perhaps I'm alone, but I had never really thought of the shape of my cocktail glasses in a sexualized way, with the exception of maybe one fleeting observation about the somewhat phallic Champagne glass.) But the martini glass, which is decidedly less curvy than the Poco glass and really rather triangular, apparently resembles a female reproductive system to the discerning eye. Internet wanderer "Paul of TX," in his "article" found on an online community called The Art of Manliness, states, "I see the martini glass and anything served in it to be very feminine. It looks like you are drinking from a part of the female reproductive system. The martini glass is shaped like a uterus." This assertion is, of course, accompanied by a diagram.
Whiskey, served in a low and curveless vessel, is now society's safe space for men deeply concerned with their perceived masculinity. It's fairly ironic then that for all of the fear of "fruitiness," the Old Fashioned, still considered a ubiquitous "man's drink" and served in a straight-walled glass with ice, contains plenty of sugar and two kinds of fruit beneath all of that potency.
Even—or perhaps especially—on Wall Street, as Nathan tells BI, "People are posers when it comes to drinking."