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Bitter and cold, like life itself, the martini has been separating the grown-ups from the kiddies for almost a century now. In its purest, most venomous form, the martini is nothing more than two or three ounces of gin, stirred with one or two drops of vermouth, and ice. Strain the drink into an elegant, long-stemmed martini glass (diabolically designed to tip over at the first hint of sloppy drunkenness, thereby enforcing a painfully high level of self-control), twist a strip of lemon peel over it, and you've got yourself one dry martini, up.

Martini drinkers in training may choose to toss in the lemon peel or even add an olive or two, although purists forbid such foppery. Likewise, taking your martini on the rocks, in a snot-nosed attempt to water it down, won't fool anyone. Mature martini drinkers know that it's the taste of the gin--astringent, purifying liquid fire--that puts hair on your balls.

That being the case, a martini is no place to scrimp on quality: A top-shelf gin, like icy-blue Bombay Sapphire or, in a pinch, Beefeater, is what you want, the better to enjoy the almonds, lemon, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia bark, and other botanicals that perfume a fine product.

Now get out there and grow up!

* Johnny's Bar, 3164 Fulton Road. Down a couple of martinis in this wildly posh and very expensive bar, and pretty soon you'll be slapping everyone on the back and calling yourself Dino. The boisterous, retro atmosphere on a Friday night is enough to take anyone back to the '50s, and the extra-large dry martinis just grease the wheels of the dream machine.

* Johnny's Downtown, 1406 West Sixth Street. Bigger and even more laid-out, this Johnny's location is the city's ultimate grown-up bar, frequented by the likes of Indians owner Dick Jacobs. For a treat, order your martini with Johnny's special Gorgonzola-stuffed olives; once you like the drink as well as you like the olives, you'll know you're an adult.

* Martini's on the Avenue, 15315 Madison Avenue, Lakewood. With more than eighty variations on the classic drink and fine food to boot, Martini's is a good spot to practice your drinking skills until you get them right.

* Hyde Park Chop House, 1243 West Prospect Avenue. While Hyde Park's martinis aren't the biggest (or the most expensive) ones in town, set one next to a slab of rare, juicy beef, and you've got a match made in testosterone heaven. Impress that special someone here with your gin-soaked savoir faire.

* Gillespie's Snickers, 1261 West 76th Street. This is not a place for the martini novice, lest he be led astray by silly concoctions like the Viagra (chilled vodka or gin, with blue cherries), the fruity Triple Berry (with raspberry and strawberry Stoli, along with Chambord for an extra kick), or the Chocolate (chocolate liqueur with vodka and cream). But Snickers' classic martini is a good one. Just watch your step!


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