Martinis by the numbers
On a brisk Friday night, about 40 stylish professionals pack Bar 10, the swanky lounge in the Westin Hotel. They sip drinks like they're in a James Bond film, mingle with well-dressed strangers, and document their opinions about the venue and its beverages on little sheets of paper.
By the end of the night, the Martini Society of Boston has spoken.
How does Bar 10 rate?
Overall experience: Excellent -- a number score of 4 out of 7.
These scores are actually below average for the group. Bar 10's ''excellent" rating isn't even close to the society's evaluation of the Back Bay ultra lounge Saint. The Martini Society judges all bars on a scales from 0 (evil) to 7 (worthy of 007 himself), and Saint received a 6 (spy-worthy.)
But really, the judging is all in good fun. The Martini Society does post its reviews on its website, but the club has just as many martini novices as it does experts, and the group is more concerned with keeping good company than finding the perfect cocktail.
Martini Society founder Skye Schulte acknowledges that her group's name is a bit formal, but she says it's really just a social club for Bostonians with taste who want to meet up and enjoy some nightlife. All you have to do to become a member is to show up.
''A martini isn't something you slam down in two gulps," Schulte says. ''It's something to sip and savor. The drink, the environment, the conversations -- they're all a part of the experience."
Last night, the martini crowd gathered for an informal wine tasting at L'espalier. On Friday, members will rendezvous for their official monthly martini night for sipping and judging. This month, the venue is 33 Restaurant & Lounge in the Back Bay. The party starts at 8.
Schulte, a spunky redhead who spent last month's martini event making sure all of her guests mingled, says she started her club after moving with her husband to Somerville from Madison, Wis. They arrived in 1999 for graduate school and did what they could to make new friends -- including signing up for a dance class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio downtown. Within a few years, Schulte began the Martini Society with friends from her ballroom dance class.
''We really wanted this to be a laid-back social club where everyone would feel welcome and have fun regardless of age, sex, or relationship status," Schulte says.
And she's been successful. Last month's event had a rolling crowd of about 40 at a time. There were married couples, singles, packs of girlfriends, and folks who came alone. Members seemed to have no reservations about talking to strangers. They greeted newcomers warmly and taught them how to score the venue and drinks.
Emily and Richard Belanger of Lexington brought pal Joel Goldsmith. The couple met Schulte at the Cambridge bistro Cuchi Cuchi and were immediately recruited as Martini Society members. Richard Belanger, 41, said he appreciates the age range of the club. There are folks in their 20s, some in their 40s. Everyone mingles regardless, and the martini tasting gives them a shared task.
When the Martini Society met at City Bar in the Lenox Hotel, the party merged with a group of local graduate students who were happy to join the sipping.
''It was wonderful," Belanger said, as he shared a Bar 10 ''platinum martini" with his wife. ''I'm hanging out with people my age and people in their 20s."
Schulte said she hopes members will help her expand her club with some simple word-of-mouth publicity. She's even made some business cards for the crew, so they have proof that they're official members of a martini society.
''It's a conversation piece," Schulte says. ''You can take it out and then invite someone."
For more information about the Martini Society and Friday's martini party, visit www.martinisociety.com.
After more than a year of sampling martinis around the city, Skye Schulte and her Martini Society members have tried dozens of cocktails at multiple nightspots. Here are some of the group's favorite drinks and venues:
Top 5 martini lounges
5. City Bar, 61 Exeter St., 617-933-4800. www.citybarboston.com
4. Foundation Lounge, 500 Commonwealth Ave., 617-859-9900. www.foundationlounge.com
3. Jer-ne, 10 Avery St., 617-574-7100. www.ritzcarlton.com
2. 28 Degrees, 1 Appleton St., 617-728-0728. www.28degrees-boston.com
1. Saint, 90 Exeter St., 617-236-1134. www.saintboston.com
Top 5 martinis in Boston
5. Key Lime Martini at Saint (90 Exeter St., 617-236-1134. www.saintboston.com)
4. Extracted Passion Martini at Excelsior (272 Boylston St., 617-426-7878. www.excelsiorrestaurant.com)
3. Classic Gin or Vodka Martini at Oak Bar (Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave., 617-267-5300. www.fairmont.com)
2. Cucumber Martini at Middlesex Lounge (315 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-868-6739. www.middlesexlounge.com)
1. Prosciutto Melon Martini at 28 Degrees (1 Appleton St., 617-728-0728. www.28degrees-boston.com)