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At the outset, permit me to suggest that the famous (infamous?) three-martini lunch was largely a fiction. I know some truly legendary drinkers and collect tales of others. But I have personal knowledge of no one who could routinely handle three of these lethal weapons and yet put in an afternoon's work.

Years ago, according to ad legend Carl Spielvogel, then a young business reporter at The New York Times, the paper had an ad writer who all morning was professional, competent and amiable. But after lunch? By 3:30 or 4, an agency phoning in a new account or a freshly minted senior VP, was likely to be greeted with, "Go (bleep) yourself!" and a telephone receiver smashed brutally back into its cradle.

The martini is still around in its various manifestations (gin or vodka, straight up or on the rocks, dry or extra dry, olives or lemon peel, etc). And by its various appellations: silver bullet, crystal yum-yum, see-through, the white death.

Many of the better Manhattan establishments famed for their martinis still flourish. Others, alas, are long gone.

Remember the Biltmore Men's Bar on Madison Avenue on the ground floor of the hotel? The feminists demanded their rights and after a sullen, sulky struggle, the men gave up and the women came in. Trouble was, once the women had their one martini and scored their point, they left and never came back.

Since the place had been spoiled for the old goats, it soon withered and died. Such, one might remark, being the price of social progress.

But the Oak Room at The Plaza is still very much there. As it was when Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed in that grand old hotel (and on at least one occasion, bathed fully dressed in the fountain outside). There, in 1996, on the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth, I went to enjoy a single martini in the great man's honor.

Costello's, where the more raffish newspapermen drank, is gone. And Toots Shor's, where Joe Namath drank. On Madison Ave, the Menemsha Bar (didn't it have a whaling motif?) went down in a gale.

But the King Cole Bar of the St. Regis (though scaled down and reshaped) is still there. As is Hurley's (once Hurley & Daly's) at the corner of 6th Avenue and 49th Street, a great place for the NBC crew, including, when he was still a drinking man and had not yet found religion, Don Imus. The Dorset, a hotel now being demolished, was the ABC watering hole, a favorite with Howard Cosell, who once drank me under the table there (he was doing see-throughs and I was at the Johnny Walker Black). Howard strolled out jauntily while I stumbled about in search of a cab.

I'd be lying if I knew what Ed Murrow drank. But I knew where. When Murrow was doing CBS' evening news (the studios were on 52nd near Madison Ave) he chilled out afterward at the bar of Louis & Armand's, just across the street, taking a stool at the near end of the stick, usually alone, drinking and staring straight ahead. Kids my age in the news business worshipped Murrow and used to go there just to watch him drink.

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