I’m still smarting from the $24 the bar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel recently charged me for a Woodford Reserve on the rocks. It is the most expensive cocktail I’ve ever purchased, and the measly pour was less than two ounces. The bar offered no entertainment, save for a clueless tech bro hitting on a woman old enough to be his mother (Note to bros: When a woman immediately brings up her kids in conversation, it’s time to move on).
Alcohol drinkers are a passive lot, as we accept ridiculously higher markups on our drinks without so much as a whimper. A standard shot in America was once two ounces and a glass of wine typically was about eight ounces. Restaurants keep testing new lows: Bourbon Steak in Washington, the biggest restaurant rip-off I’ve encountered, served me a Tito on the rocks that I doubt measured an ounce. Wine pours, at least in the major coastal cities, now barely reach five ounces.
Martini drinkers are the most exploited. The Rat Pack romance of a martini was an oversized drink served in giant glasses filled to the rim. Restaurants and bars have gradually opted for increasingly smaller martini glasses and done away with surface tension pours. Frank, Dean & Sammy would be horrified by the trend to serve a martini in a dainty pony glass holding barely two ounces. The drink should be renamed a “petitini.”
The folks at a Nashville-based restaurant chain called J. Alexander’s still have some respect for tradition. I stopped by their West Bloomfield location after a tiring flight from L.A. to Detroit and felt transplanted in time not just because of jet lag. A free-standing restaurant in a strip mall parking lot isn’t where I’d expect an old-fashioned martini pour.
The indifferent millennial bartender set my expectations low. She wasn’t particularly welcoming or engaging, so I doubted she would heed my request to chill my requested Tito’s vodka extra cold. To my surprise, she gave the vodka a vigorous shaking lasting an estimated two minutes. J. Alexander’s keeps its martini glasses frozen and the bartender waited till she was done shaking before reaching for a glass.
(Note to Martini purists: I acknowledge that a traditional Martini is made with gin and is stirred, not shaken.)
J. Alexander’s uses seven-ounce martini glasses and mine was filled a tad over three quarters. But an additional ounce or so was poured into a small carafe. Get this: the bartender placed the carafe into a glass of ice water to keep the surplus Tito’s cold. Starkman Approved applauds this commitment to perfection!
The cost for this time-intensive, flawlessly prepared martini with premium Tito’s vodka? $13! J. Alexander’s even has a macho name for the drink: “Duke Martini.” I challenge anyone to find a better martini deal in America.
J. Alexander’s is known for its wood-fired cuisine, and all the food servers paraded about looked delicious. My one-half rotisserie chicken was plump and moist. The bar crowd was genuine Michigan friendly, as opposed to phony baloney L.A. engagement. I had a nice conversation with two aides to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who come regularly for the cocktails but curiously prefer ordering their food to go.
Alas, the days of great pours at J. Alexander’s may be numbered. An Ohio investment firm named Ancora Advisors has made an unsolicited offer for the restaurant’s publicly-traded parent company. When it comes to retail and restaurants, Wall Street can be more small-minded than a petitini glass.
My once favorite steakhouse in NYC served pistachios at the bar, but when it was acquired by a trendy restaurant conglomerate the nuts were the first things to go. A to-die-for seven-layer chocolate cake also was negatively tampered with. I never went back.
So, let’s raise a glass and toast the current management of J. Alexander’s and hope they stuff Ancora with the same generous blue cheese they use for their olives.
7440 Orchard Lake Rd.,
West Bloomfield, MI