The NYC Bar Behind Anthony Bourdain's Favorite Martini

The late Anthony Bourdain wore a lot of hats during his lifetime. He was a chef, a bestselling author, a world traveler, and a television presenter. Armed with endless curiosity and acerbic wit, Bourdain shared his travels and his worldview with fans, both in prose and in entertaining videos. From his love of Vietnamese cuisine to his distaste of certain culinary celebrities, he painted an unvarnished picture of the world he lived in — and invited us all in with his charm and knowledge.

Although he was well known for his taste in dive bars, Bourdain had expressed his appreciation of some of the finer things in life, too, and one of those is a properly made martini — with an extra olive — especially at Bemelmans Bar, a piano bar located in the iconic and luxurious Carlyle Hotel in Upper East Side of New York City. Bedecked in murals and lined with leather banquettes, this hot spot has enjoyed a rich history and even richer patrons during its lengthy history.

The history of Bemelmans Bar

Bemelmans opened on the ground floor of the Carlyle Hotel in 1947. The establishment was named after the artist Ludwig Bemelmans, who was best known for his "Madeline" children's book series. The story goes that Bemelmans was asked by Robert Huyot, then general manager of the hotel, to paint the walls of the bar in exchange for free accommodations. Bemelmans agreed and painted a series of large murals depicting New York's famed Central Park across all four seasons, alongside images of Madeline and various animals. 

Over time, it became a very noted spot with the hotel and bar playing host to the rich and famous around the world, including royalty and world figures, such as president John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy. Revamped and restored by new owners in 2002, the bar continues to be a destination for both local residents and visitors alike. In recent years, after a brief pandemic-related closure, it has attracted a much younger clientele, who are drawn to the retro atmosphere.

Although not a habitual martini drinker, it's said that Anthony Bourdain would always order one from Bemelmans whenever he visited. While the bar is famous for its vodka-based dirty martinis, Bourdain's favorite was a classic dry martini with gin, and an extra olive.

Making Anthony Bourdain's favorite martini

"I'm not ordinarily a martini drinker. A martini is a bad lifestyle choice; it's not my drink of choice. But this is the sort of place that demands a martini. They make a very good one, a very large one, and I plan on a long nap after this, so there's little chance of bad decision-making," Anthony Bourdain famously told VICE in a 2016 interview conducted at Bemelmans.

If you can't get away to New York any time soon, you can still make Bourdain's favorite martini right in the comfort of our own home. Start with an ice-filled beaker and add gin — Bourdain preferred Bombay Sapphire — and a splash of vermouth. Stir briskly until the liquid is cooled, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with two or three stuffed olives and you have a perfectly made martini. (At Bemelmans, the martini service also comes with a sidecar, so you can enjoy extra servings.)

If you prefer something other than gin, you can always go for a dirty vodka martini. Instead of gin, add vodka, vermouth, and brine from good quality olives into an ice filled beaker. Stir until cold before straining into a glass to serve. Sip it while perusing a copy of "Madeline" with soft piano music and enjoy the Bemelmans experience just like Bourdain once enjoyed.