In September a couple threw a wedding in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with a less-than-subtle theme. It started with the engagement photos, which captured the pair at various iconic New York City restaurants drinking Martinis, followed by illustrated save the dates featuring them sipping Martinis in front of New York restaurant institution The Odeon. Guests’ welcome bags and hangover kits featured an illustration of — you’re catching on now, aren’t you? — a giant Martini.
Yet all of this paled in comparison to the showpiece that awaited them in the reception tent: a four-foot Martini ice luge. Attendees chose their spirit and dirty-to-dry ratio, which was stirred and poured into the luge, whose winding, carved tunnel sufficiently mixed said contents before depositing them, perfectly chilled, into each guest’s waiting glass.
“It was taken that the Martini was the main theme of their wedding, but in this really funny way,” says wedding and event planner Melissa Sullivan, who owns Studio Sully, a Los Angeles-based event design and production studio. “I think everyone is feeling like they can more joyfully express themselves and what they like at their wedding.”
Dividing her work mainly between New York and L.A., Sullivan is no stranger to the bespoke side of wedding drinks. For years, her clients have seemed ahead of the curve, incorporating premium spirits into their well-stocked bars and featuring seasonal cocktails to complement food menus. But one trend is proving particularly stubborn, she says: “People are Martini-obsessed.”
Sullivan reckons it began a few years ago when the Espresso Martini craze hit as Covid’s grip was loosening. Caffeinated, boozy, and ’90s chic, the cocktail represented the extravagant zenith of our post-pandemic re-entry in some ways. Wedding planning site and vendor marketplace The Knot has labeled this vibe the “night-luxe” aesthetic — as in, prowling the scene-iest scenes in sleek, all-black ensembles with a caviar bump on one hand and a Martini in the other, à la “Sex and the City.”
Credit: Jillian Mitchell
“After two years of being in the pandemic, we’re really seeing people return to pre-pandemic norms and celebrate in bigger ways,” says Chapelle Johnson, The Knot’s associate editor. Night-luxe is a natural fit for a wedding theme, as is its caffeinated Martini mascot, which has been cropping up as miniature signature cocktail-hour openers or passed at the end of the dinner hour with dessert for an “energizing boost” before the dancing commences. Couples also adopted Espresso Martinis as a “unique morning cocktail” at their post-wedding brunch to coax hungover guests back to life, Johnson says.
Although Sullivan saw demand for Espresso Martinis start to trail off in 2023, The Knot says otherwise. According to a recent Instagram poll asking followers to weigh in on what’s in and out for 2024, some 60 percent of respondents said Espresso Martinis will still be popular this year, Johnson says.
Chicago-based Lola Event Productions doesn’t see the trend slowing down anytime soon, either.
“The Espresso Martini is somehow everybody’s signature drink,” says Lola event and wedding planner Michelle Vining. “Yeah, you and every other millennial and Gen Z-er.”
Even so, the craze has given way to a broader love affair with classic Martinis, which are taking up such inauspicious forms as Martini (instead of Champagne) towers, passed mini Martinis, and dedicated Martini lounges featuring gin and vodka with all the fixings to suit guests’ preferences.
“If someone has a Martini in their hand, like a glass of Champagne, they’re more willing to pose for the camera; there’s something about it that just always makes people feel glam.”
It’s one indicator of how important food and drink have become at weddings, not just for the sake of throwing a finer party, but as forms of self-expression in their own right. More than half of Vining’s clients say the food and bar are the most important part of their wedding “because it is so much a part of their life,” she says. This mirrors the results of a survey of almost 12,000 couples who married in 2022 by The Knot; 61 percent named food and beverage as the most significant aspect while planning their wedding, up 4 percentage points from 2021. Additionally, 57 percent said they offered an open bar.
“These stats speak to couples recognizing the value of investing in alcohol and bar services, as it gives them a creative way to highlight their personalities and likes,” Johnson says.
The Martini represents a piece of the “retro obsession” that’s overtaken our broader culture, resurrecting cassette tapes, choker necklaces, and film and flash photography in its wake. As Vining points out, couples are always tossing around the words “timeless” and “classic,” but it means something different to each. “It’s all about their perception; right now, classic means the ’90s,” she says.
Regardless, people are leaning hard into classic cocktails again, like the Martini and the Old Fashioned, she adds. The Martini seems to transcend these trendier flings with its timelessly celebratory feel, like the little black dress and red lip of the cocktail realm. As the Berkshires wedding proves, it makes for an iconic — if cheeky — symbol of celebration. Indeed, Sullivan finds that guests embrace the festive environment when they’re holding a Martini.
“If someone has a Martini in their hand, like a glass of Champagne, they’re more willing to pose for the camera; there’s something about it that just always makes people feel glam,” she says.
“It used to be a no-no to call a Martini or an Old Fashioned a specialty cocktail.”
It can actually help couples from a cost-savings standpoint. A well-known signature drink is generally a safer option. “To push a signature drink that’s super different on people can be a big waste of money,” Vining says. “They’ll take one sip and just put it down.”
It’s also easier on the bar — since it doesn’t require special syrups or juices or advanced prep like infusing shrubs. A full-sized Martini can, theoretically, satisfy a guest for longer so they don’t need to go to the bar as many times, Sullivan adds.
Then again, dispensing such a high-octane cocktail at an open bar does come with the risk of guests getting sloshed early in the evening. Fortunately, people love miniature things, even more so if “a tiny cocktail is paired with an hors d’oeuvre,” Vining says.
She’s found it can take some coaxing to let couples know that they can not only serve a Martini (or, hell, a Miller High Life) as their signature drink, but make it miniature if they want. Yet enduring the existential horror of the pandemic has only given further credence to the already dying notion that a wedding should be dictated by stuffy traditions or the “proper” way of doing things.
In fact, wedding trend forecasters have predicted that the “non-wedding wedding” will be one of the biggest trends of 2024. A report co-authored by Pinterest and wedding planning site Zola and published in May 2023 found that searches for “nontraditional wedding dresses” were up 110 percent, while those for “nontraditional wedding vows” shot up 205 percent. The phrase “anti-bride” likewise increased by 480 percent. This ethos has, unsurprisingly, carried over to the drinking end of things — where, for now, the Martini is king.
“It used to be a no-no to call a Martini or an Old Fashioned a specialty cocktail,” Sullivan says. Since time immemorial, wedding signature drink meant fruit. People have dispensed with that old chestnut, instead featuring classic cocktails they like.
“I was joking to someone about doing a chocolate fountain, which maybe in the past sounded so tacky,” she says. “But now people aren’t shying away from things that once seemed passé. They want to enjoy pure celebration.”
The article Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and Something Boozy: The Martini Is This Year’s Ultimate Wedding Accessory appeared first on VinePair.