Mizu shobai is a fickle business at best. And these troubled economic times tend to heighten the sense of risk. So when I first heard of a plot to hatch a fun and funky martini lounge on a quiet back street in Roppongi, it struck me as downright dangerous. As I sipped a classic 007 at the opening of G Martini’s, as it was christened, I found myself plea-bargaining with God to please, please let this one survive (I offered Gas Panic in its stead). Eight months later, it is not only still alive but thriving. Amen.
|Grant-oh (top) feeds his fetish for martinis, while Bernell watches the crowd and Sean (bottom) mixes up the marvellous cocktails.JUDE BRAND PHOTOS|
G Martini’s wasn’t exactly born with a business plan — it evolved. Grant (Grant-oh) Buchwald, G Martini’s frontman, had been quietly developing his small but successful Tokyo-based video production company for the best part of 10 years. Little did he know that accepting an invitation to a friend’s wedding in San Francisco would change his life. The bride’s family, it transpired, were friends of Bing Crosby. One night, when the party converged at Bing’s place, Grant-oh learned of the entertainer’s passion for two things: martinis and hats. Grant-oh was hooked on both counts.
“It was great — singing along to Bing’s records, trying on his hats and sipping martinis,” Grant-oh recalls. “As soon as I got back to Tokyo, I started throwing martini parties at home.” But it wasn’t long before Grant-oh needed more space — and help. “I was getting sick of cleaning up the mess,” he confides. And that’s when Grant-oh’s party plan took an evolutionary leap.
One of his friends had a space in Roppongi and another had enough anaconda skin to cover its 6-meter bar (and ample imagination to fill the rest of the space). Potential partners rallied to the cause. “It all just came together,” Grant-oh concludes.
The only thing missing was someone to spread the word. So Grant-oh flew in Bernell — a fellow Canadian and well-known Roppongi networker. As Grant-oh points out, “G Martini’s is an extension of my living room, so I wanted to create the same kind of warmth and comfort with quality music, drinks and people. I like the fact that we’re not located right on the main drag because I don’t want the general Roppongi rabble. That’s why, at first, I wanted to establish our customer base by word of mouth.” And Bernell was the perfect person to get the ball rolling.
It didn’t take long for the word to be heard. Both the Lava Lounge (a small, triangular second-floor loft space fitted with a shag-pile covered platform for lounging) and the Shag Room (more shag but on a smaller scale) were heavily booked for Christmas parties one month after opening. Now, G Martini’s generally draws a fast-track financial set after dinnertime till midnight and a hip Roppongi club crowd after midnight till dawn. But this, like everything at G Martini’s, is still evolving.
The martini menu is a perfect example. It is a colorful pageant of exotic names and flavors, all annotated with clever quips alluding to the effects of their contents. It begins with the Classico and 007 — the former shaken or stirred; the latter shaken, not stirred; both made on a gin or vodka base; both served with an olive (or three).
But these are the only martinis on the menu that kowtow to the traditional constraints of the drink. The rest of the 30-odd martinis listed are original — concocted by Grant-oh and his colleagues in private tasting sessions and rendered in bold strokes of color and unexpected splashes of fruit. The only thing they have in common (besides funny names) are the elegant (and generously sized) long-stemmed glasses in which they are served.
Gone is the simplicity of Bogie saying “slip out of those wet things and into a dry martini.” In the 21st century, we have Austin Powers skinny-dipping and slipping into Alotta Fagina . . .