My Quest to Drink a Nobu Martini in My Pajamas

In November, Robert De Niro’s former assistant Graham Chase Robinson successfully sued the actor’s company for, among other things, De Niro asking her to scratch his back and rescue his dogs from an incipient fire, contacting her while she was at her grandma’s funeral, and calling her a bitch. De Niro’s company unsuccessfully countersued Robinson, arguing that she used the company card for personal Uber rides and watched too much Netflix on the clock. In an attempt to prove that the company-card argument held no water, Robinson’s lawyer pointed out that De Niro once asked Robinson to Uber him a “particular martini” from Nobu, the restaurant he co-owns, at 11 o’clock at night.

Robinson had been dining at Nobu for her friend’s daughter’s 21st birthday when “Bob” called. “And I told him I was at Nobu, and he asked that I bring a martini to him after I finished dinner … He asked me to bring him a martini on my way home.” Robinson did and “met him downstairs,” ostensibly at one of his Manhattan residences, where “he was in his pajamas and slippers, and I handed him the martini in a plastic container.”

Can anyone just get a to-go martini from Nobu and Uber it home? I arrived at its downtown outpost on a Wednesday evening around 9:30 to find out. I wore what I imagined an assistant to Robert De Niro might wear: a pleated black skirt, knee-high boots, and a sense of nervous imperiousness. Both the aboveground bar and the basement dining area were packed with rich people celebrating their friends’ daughters’ 21st birthdays. I took a seat at the bar and coolly asked the bartender for a martini to go.

“No,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

I studied him in an assistant-y way. “I’m aware there’s precedent for getting a martini to go,” I said.

“Are you just finding another way to ask me the same thing?” he said.

I conceded that I was but pushed once more: “You never do that? Even for a special guest?”

He sighed. “No. That’s a lot of ways of asking the same question.”

I had no choice but to break cover. I asked if he’d followed De Niro’s trial, and he had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained that I possessed legal knowledge that De Niro had, at least once, ordered a martini to go from Nobu. “If you’re the owner of the place …” he trailed off, shrugging.

“Could you put it into a little to-go cup for me?” I asked.

“How many ways can you ask me this?” he said. He disappeared to tell on me.

A young woman sitting next to me watched the interaction with great interest. “I want this to happen,” she said. In 2022, New York State passed a law that made the sale and delivery of to-go cocktails legal for three years, so it should be possible. However, it’s important to remember that at Nobu, it’s still 2017.

The bartender returned, looking vaguely homicidal. I apologized for being a nuisance and asked him if he wanted to murder me. “I didn’t say anything like that,” he said.

I attempted to confirm that only Robert De Niro was allowed to get a martini to go at Nobu. “I’ve never given anybody a martini to go,” he reiterated.

“What about delivery?” I asked.

“No,” he said. I took a deep breath, looked at my accomplice, and asked what would happen if I got my own to-go cup and poured the martini in it and left. “If I give it to you in a martini glass, whatever you do, that’s on your heart,” he said. “What I’m not gonna do is pour it in a to-go container.”

I wondered if Nobu would be more willing to respect me and treat me like a to-go-martini girl if I were an actual diner in its restaurant. Seated quickly at the sushi bar downstairs, I studied the astronomically priced menu and decided to order the third- or fourth-cheapest appetizer, a few pieces of salmon sashimi that came to $38 with tax, so as not to draw immediate suspicion to myself. I asked the waiter which martini Robert De Niro preferred, and he said he wasn’t sure but suggested it could be the “signature” martini, the Matsuhisa, a $22 combination of Suntory Haku vodka, Hokusetsu Junmai sake, ginger, and Japanese cucumber. I said I’d wait a few minutes to order my drink.

When he returned with my sushi, I leaned on my theatrical training (the time I played Slut No. 3 in my high school’s student-written production). “I’m having a work emergency,” I said, looking pained, imagining Robert De Niro calling me a bitch at my grandma’s funeral. “Can I get this to go?”

“Of course,” he said.

I kept my face neutral. “And can I get a Matsuhisa martini to go?”

“We don’t have cups to go,” he said. “Sorry about that.” He did actually seem sorry.

“What if I have my own cup?” I asked. (I didn’t.)

“No, sorry about that,” he said. “I’ll get a to-go box.”

He packaged the sushi in a box and then a stiff bag, as if it were an expensive perfume at a department store. I gently placed my sushi bag in my arms and stopped by the downstairs host stand. “Do you ever do martinis to go?” I asked the host.

“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “No alcoholic drinks to go.”

“Is it a legal thing?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, narrowing his eyebrows. “You can’t have alcohol to go.” False. But he held all the power.

I went back upstairs, darting past the initial hosts and out into the chilly night. I ran across the moonlit street with my sashimi slung over my arm like a very bourgeois cat burglar. I asked an employee at Gong cha for a to-go cup, and they gave it to me without question — more comrades.

I ran back to the bar at Nobu. The bartender and I greeted each other silently, with begrudging respect, like pistoleros. I ordered the Matsuhisa, and we entered a brief détente as he made it for me, agreeing that martinis are good.

This one was especially delicious. I understood instantly why Robert De Niro needed it delivered to him at 11 p.m. at any cost. It barely tasted like a martini; it was more like the water they pour for you at a hotel spa. As the bartender walked away, I stealthily poured the rest of the martini into my to-go cup, creeping out the door slowly so as not to spill (there was no lid). Outside, I hailed a cab and held the martini in my lap, breaking New York’s open-container law but perhaps repairing some kind of karmic fracture by doing vaguely illegal things at Nobu, the scene of De Niro’s own ethical missteps.

When I got home a half-hour later, I put on my pajamas and took another sip. Shockingly, it was just as crisp and refreshing as at the moment of its birth. I had learned something new about what was and was not possible in physics and in New York City. I put the rest of it in the fridge for breakfast.

Photo: Rachel Handler

Photo: Rachel Handler