Forget Clunky Martini Glasses—the Nick and Nora Is the Best Vessel for Cocktails
Fashion is a visual guide to the eras. You know what we mean: You can look at a piece of clothing and pin it to a decade just by the width of a pant leg, the collar on a shirt, or the colors of the cloth. Drinks have their own kind of fashion touchstones, too (1970s Harvey Wallbanger, anyone?), and glassware is one way to find that link in time. When it comes to the pretty, petite Nick and Nora glass, however, there are a few points of entry.
What Is a Nick and Nora Glass?
This demure, egg-cup shaped glass holds 5 to 6 ounces—so it's on the smaller side. That's precisely what makes it an excellent serving selection for stirred, stiff drinks which, as a rule, are anything that is spirits-centric (no juices or sodas).
Just the Right Size
"Nick and Noras are great for stirred cocktails that measure 3 ounces before dilution, like classic martinis and Manhattans. Those two cocktails have inspired countless variations, which would all be great in this glass," says Meaghan Dorman, the bar director for Raines Law Room and Dear Irving in New York City. "Bartenders call the top [level] of the drink the 'washline,' so there is a great washline for these classic cocktails in a Nick and Nora. It's not so full that you spill or have to take a big sip to pick up the glass, but not so empty you feel like someone cheated you."
This is partly why this vessel came back into fashion in the first place. Original cocktail glasses were tiny and stemmed, but as the decades waned on and drinks went disco, they got bigger and bolder (and sweeter and stickier). By the 1980s and 1990s, we were all drinking Cosmos (although, this drink should be tart, not sweet!), Appletinis, and near-vermouth-less vodka-based Martinis out of enormous V-shaped glasses that were more akin to three drinks than one.
"When craft cocktails came back, they also went back to a more traditional size of 3 to 4 ounces of liquor and modifiers versus the 8 to 10 ounce drinks that were popular in the '80s and '90s," says Dorman, noting that quality ingredients and a more responsible view of how much alcohol should be in a cocktail were responsible for this shift. "A good host wants you to be able to stay for a few quality drinks versus one large one that will knock you out—and be warm by the time you get to the end."
Who Are Nick and Nora?
The historically-minded and clever cocktail maven, Dale DeGroff (whose nickname, King Cocktail, is not an exaggeration), brought smaller sipping sizes back into modern drinking culture—and heralded in this era using this exact petite glass.
The Origin Story
This brings us to the origin of this lovely little vessels' name: Nick and Nora Charles are the sharp, witty, and ever-bantering main characters in author Dashiell Hammett's best-selling 1934 novel, The Thin Man. In its hey day, the book was so well received, that it became an equally-popular film, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy in 1939. In it, the two were seen sipping cocktails from small, stemmed glasses—which DeGroff long admired.
When he became the head bartender at the Rainbow Room in the late 1980s, he brought back that small glass and dubbed it the Nick and Nora. The name didn't just stick: It entered popular culture and is what we call the little sipping vessel today.
Why Should You Use It?
Dorman first remembers admiring Nick and Nora glasses at Julie Reiner's classically cool cocktail bar, Clover Club, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Inspired by their retro look, she turned her eye to history to stock her own bar when she took the helm of Raines Law Room. "In the early days of Raines, we used all vintage glassware that the owners and I shopped flea markets for, both for the size of glasses and the aesthetic," says Dorman. "Now, there is much more variety and availability of shapes like the Nick and Nora."
Beyond their look, they're worth picking up for your home bar for practical reasons, too, notes Dorman. "They are steadier than larger V-shaped martini glasses, so if you ever carry a tray full of cocktails, you'll love a Nick and Nora!" she says. "It also looks elegant. I love a martini before dinner, as much for the actual drink as the feeling of one part of the day is over and now we are moving onto fun. Holding a Nick and Nora means cocktail hour!"