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Classic martinis at Highland Tap 

Clear, crisp gin and a little vermouth to round the flavor are chilled on ice and strained into a martini glass. An optional olive adds a salty counterpoint. That's a martini, and that's what you get at Highland Tap.

The revival of the cocktail culture has led to a profusion of new bars boasting a lengthy menu of martini concoctions in various colors and flavors. However, long after the trendy masses move on, the classic martini will remain.

(Highland Tap makes vodka martinis as well, but this is the only concession to non-purists.)

The Highland Tap makes a triple-sized portion and serves the extra in a small glass carafe floating in a brandy snifter of ice water. The gin stays cold and potent, and you needn't fill the glass to the rim, only to spill it on your way to find your companions. Good gin is too expensive to be wasted. The house martini made with Gilbey's is $6.50, but spend the extra dollar for Beefeater, Tanqueray or Bombay.

The perforated brass can lights over the bar are part industrial chic, part California mod. The crowd is well-scrubbed and generally young. Dress ranges from T-shirt casual to club fancy, with most taking a middle road. On weekend nights, you'll be standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the crowded bar area, so make a new friend or entertain yourself by eavesdropping. You can escape the crush of the bar by getting a table in the cozy dining room for dinner. Get ready to shell out some bucks for their famous steaks ($24 for a 12-ounce filet, or $23 for a 16-ounce N.Y. strip) to accompany your drink.

The status of the original dry martini increased during Prohibition, when wealthy revelers could show off their taste and ability to acquire high-quality bootleg liquor. Perhaps not coincidentally, the stone walls, low lighting and padded burgundy bar rail at the Highland Tap give the underground room the cool, clubby ambience of a speakeasy -- a perfect place to escape the heat of summer.

Highland Tap, 1026 N. Highland Ave., Bar hours: Sun.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Lunch: Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Sun.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Brunch: Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 404-875-3673.

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