I love a Manhattan. To me it's the perfect cocktail. It has three ingredients. It's has a history. And it tastes delicious. If I am out for a special evening a Manhattan is the perfect way to compliment my night. It's not for the light weight drinker. It's boozy. But if you sip it slowly it will not harm you so don't be afraid of it.
Basically I would describe it as a whiskey martini. But that is not giving it justice. It is made with three ingredients. Whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. It is garnished with a Maraschino cheery at most bars. If you are at a higher class bar you will get a brandied cherry instead of the waxy chemically colored Maraschino. Some bartenders use a lemon peel for the garnish but I honestly think the classic brandied cherry is the best. However I will not turn up my nose or judge the bartender for the lemon peel. And I usually have to accept the Maraschino cherry from most bars and I don't complain.
Now the question is what kind of whiskey. Most recipes call for a Kentucky bourbon or Canadian Whiskey. And these days Rye whiskey is making a big come back in Manhattans. This is the classic choice and the one I prefer. Please don't offer me Crown Royale in my Manhattan. I am a bit of snob that way.
When I travel I like to sample a Manhattan in the area I am visiting. And it's fun to see how the different bartenders treat the three simple ingredients. One of my favorite Manhattans came from a bar in Charleston, South Carolina named High Cotton. If you have a Manhattan at High Cotton you will be transported back to the 1920's and think you are in a speakeasy. Their recipe is simple and classic. They don't experiment or try to wow you with new age additions. The High Cotton Manhattan is made with bourbon , Carpano Antica vermouth, a splash of bitters and brandy soaked cherries. I would travel back to Charleston tomorrow just to have one of their Manhattans. We frequently travel with out friend Gillian Hobson from Manchester, England. We took her to Charleston four years ago and one of our first stops was to introduce her to the High Cotton Manhattan. She left High Cotton with a very big smile on her face and a bounce to her step.
|Larry and Mark having Manhattan's in Manhattan|
Mark and I love New York. And I love cocktails in New York. Years ago when Sex and the City was popular I wanted to go to New York for a Cosmo just like Carrie Bradshaw. It was fun. But a few years later in New York I wanted the classic experience. I wanted a Manhattan in Manhattan. And I have to admit there is no comparison. If your in New York you really owe yourself a Manhattan in Manhattan. Historically it is suggested that the Manhattan originated at the Manhattan Club in New York. The story goes it was invented by Dr. Iain Marshall in the early 1870's for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome. She is better known as Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Wintson Churchill. The event was in honor of the Presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The event was such a success the drink became highly fashionable. But don't let anyone fool you with this story. Lady Randolph Churchill was in France during this time and was very pregnant. So the story is likely false. Another story tell us it was invented in the 1860's at a bar on Broadway near Houston Street by a bartender named Black. So no one really knows the origin of the cocktail but it does have a long history.
|Larry having a Manhattan in Manhattan February 2016|
My next rule for Manhattans. Watch your bartender. A Manhattan is a simple drink. Any good bartender can make one. But if you have doubts about your bartender I suggest skipping the Manhattan and just order a glass of wine. Why waste the experience on a bad drink. My daughter Katie and I were in Nashville earlier this year. We had spent the day walking and exploring the city. At the end of our evening we wanted to relax and have a cocktail before returning to our hotel. We found a beautiful cocktail bar called The Henley at the Aertson Hotel in Nashville. The bar was decorated with photos of Bette Davis's eyes. So this made me happy. I noticed the bartender was young. She was probably in her early 20's. So I asked her politely if she knew how to make a Manhattan. She looked at me and smiled and said "Oh, of course." So I ordered a Manhattan. Then I watched her closely. She did not go to pick up the bourbon, or the vermouth or the bitters. She went to pick up her cocktail bible. She had no idea how to make a Manhattan. I knew then it was not going to be a good experience. And she did make it wrong. And she did forget the cherry until I reminded her.
|Bette Davis's eyes were not smiling at the Manhattan|
My main rule about Manhattans is to not mess with it. Don't experiment with it. Don't try to update the recipe or put your own personal touch on it. It's a classic. It does not need embellishments. However for every rule there is an exception. And if some one offers to make you a Smoked Manhattan go for it. Placing your cocktail glass over some smoked hickory chips before filling it with the Manhattan is a surprising delight.
|Smoked hickory chips for your Manhattan glass|
I was in Waikiki this past November. Once again I had been walking all day and ready for a relaxing evening with a cocktail. I had many Maitai's in Waikiki during my stay. But this day I was ready to just relax and enjoy a Manhattan. And what do I see on the menu but a smoked Manhattan. I was ready to break my rule and try this new idea. Something about the smoke and the rye whiskey just sounded perfect to me. I was in the bar at the Outrigger Hotel. I could see Diamond Head in the distance from the beach hotel's windows. It was the perfect location for this perfect drink. Now much like Charleston, South Carolina, I would return here to Waikiki tomorrow just to have another one of these drinks.
|Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in Honky Tonk Freeway|
Jessica responds that she is not an alcoholic. She says your sister always sucks her fruit when she is finished with her drinks. Now she is an alcoholic. I never suck my fruit.
Here I am after a very good Manhattan, not traveling, but here at home at Jerry D's, one of my local favorite restaurants.
Yes Jessica Tandy. I sucked the fruit. And it was good!