Hendrick's Martini

Lester's Sports Bar & Grill, 9906 Clayton Road, Ladue; 314-994-0055.

May 23, 2007 at 4:00 am
And then, like magic, we were headed to the Bass Pro Shop to buy a twenty-gauge shotgun.

It all happened so innocently.

This past weekend we found ourselves in a conversation about the two-martini lunch, a uniquely white-collar American tradition that fizzled out in the late 1970s after peaking in the 1950s. Lunchtime used to mean martini time, used to mean Lucky Strike time, was steak time, and apple pie time. A noon martini was a necessary ingredient in the business day. It loosened the brain, which prompted much witty repartee and belly laughs. A second martini sealed the deal: Get a client drunk on a few good martinis — which, by definition, consists of gin and vermouth — and he'll sign on any dotted line laid before him.

Those days are gone, and like millions of American men, Drink of the Week couples our lunch — usually a falafel or some sushi — with a big glass of water (with a lemon wedge, please), followed by maybe an espresso or an Americano (with whole milk). The thought of a cocktail at lunch, let alone a second, seldom arises (thankfully). Who can get anything done after two big glasses of gin and vermouth?

Our motto has always been "There's only one way to find out," so we headed to Lester's, a thriving new bar in Ladue opened this spring by Busch's Grove owner Lester Miller. Along the way we kidnapped an accomplice, a colleague whom we have granted anonymity based on his fear of repercussions from his boss. We figured that, over martinis, we could land a few sources, maybe make a few handshake deals with heavy hitters, or at least rub elbows with random investors and financiers who might be enthusiastic about a few projects we're working on.

If you land at Lester's for lunch, we recommend sitting at the bar, because it's closer to the gin, and the room contains exactly 326 television screens playing a mix of exactly 5 cable stations: ESPN, ESPN 2, FOX Sports Net, CNBC, CNN. Information will flood into your head, and you'll feel like you're getting some work done. The whole room is in constant TV motion, emanating flashes and shocks of color and action that would be very disconcerting were you on hallucinogens of any sort. In fact, there are more televisions per square foot in Lester's than in any other bar in Ladue. There are even televisions above each urinal in the bathroom; we checked the grain futures on CNBC while we peed.

The bar is an island in the middle of the room, and customers surround it like pigs around a trough, feasting on the restaurant's huge-ass sandwiches, remarkable Mom-style macaroni and cheese, and thinly cut French fries. Even the pickles are homemade. We had a smoked turkey sandwich with our first Hendrick's martini (a little dirty, with one olive). Our second martini was dessert, and exquisite: Hendrick's, dry vermouth and a twist of lemon. It was perfect.

Those of you who don't like gin martinis should try one with Hendrick's gin, because it'll change your mind. Most martini-haters can trace their hatin' ways back to a formative experience with Beefeater or some similarly juniper-heavy specimen. Hendrick's gin, a Scottish concern, is much softer. The juniper berry is but one of many infused flavors, the most prominent being a blend of cucumber and rose petal.

We ate and drank, and then our companion, a budding skeet shooter, decided he wanted to buy the twenty-gauge shotgun he'd been eyeing over the weekend. Tipsy and giddy, Drink enthusiastically agreed: "Yes, let's go buy a shotgun."

Soon, we were standing at the hunting megamart in St. Charles holding some very heavy machinery, admiring Browning pistols and Marine rifles, aiming twelve-gauge shotguns at stuffed deer props across the store, picking off light fixtures, shooting imaginary bullets at video monitors.

Our unnamed colleague ended up buying his rifle — a two-martini buzz does not disqualify one from acquiring a gun in the state of Missouri — from a nice salesman named Tom, who patiently but not without frustration led the buyer through the mound of gun-licensing paperwork. "It just keeps getting worse," he explained. "And who knows how much more we'll have to do after this most recent shooting spree."

Alas and predictably, the required background check flagged our colleague as a potential menace, and he was not allowed to walk out of the store with his gun. He had to wait three days while the government assessed his threat level. (He did end up getting the gun, by the way.)

That's probably just as well. If he'd have gotten the gun that day, we would have had to shoot it, and we'd probably be dead right now. Instead, your trusty drink columnist is happy to report back that, yes, a two-martini lunch is a very good idea, and we would highly recommend doing it at Lester's. It's close to all the highways, and only fifteen minutes away from a gun shop.