Pic courtesy of Drinking the World

I guess it was really only a matter of time before I got to my favorite cocktail.

After taking this weekly piece around the world via Charles Lindbergh’s plane (the Aviation), or hopping a boat to Cuba (the El Presidente), whirling through the streets of Paris on a motorcycle (the Sidecar) or drifting through New Orleans at the height of the cocktail craze (the Ramos Gin Fizz), I’m ready to come home.

The Manhattan is my go-to litmus test for any cocktail joint.  It’s the first drink I order before moving on to the more tricked-out concoctions.  It’s a simple drink, in theory, but I’m continually stunned by the wide range of variations you’ll get from bar to bar and bartender to bartender.  It’s sort of like asking a cook to make a scrambled egg.  That simple act, in itself, can reveal the depth of their technique in a minute.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from researching cocktail history, it’s that there’s always a swirl of debate over their true histories.  In the case of the Manhattan cocktail, yep, it was spawned in the city of Manhattan.  That much we know.  The rest gets murky…

Supposedly in the 1870’s, a hob-nobbing crew of rich Democrats gathered at the Manhattan Club in New York City to toast Samuel J. Tilden, the presidential candidate.  It was a lavish affair hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, and sometime during the night a man named Dr. Iain Marshall invented the drink and poured it for the guests.  The party was a smashing success and, afterwards, it became fashionable to associate one’s self with it by asking for  “a taste of the Manhattan cocktail.”

(It’s no matter that, in truth, Lady Churchill was actually in France at the time and pregnant…the story is so much more charming if it’s her soiree that spawned it all.)

Anyone can make up stories!  For instance, I’d like to start the rumor that Iain Marshall was actually a street swindler who added the tasty vermouth into the cocktails so as to easier slip the diamond bracelets off his tipsy victims.  Oh, and he was really a woman.  Yea!  See, it’s so damn easy to start rumors!  (Sorry, Iain.)

The irony of the Manhattan is that, in today’s world, many consider it a ‘strong’ cocktail – I, however, could nurse off it all night like a warm teet, but that’s not the point.  At the time of it’s creation, cocktails were quite harsh and consisted only of liquor with a dash of bitters and a pinch of sugar.  The Manhattan would change all that; with the addition of sweet vermouth, cocktail evolution would never again crawl back to the good ol’ days.


  • 2 ounces Rye Whiskey (or Canadian)
  • 1/2 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters


I like to go a little lighter on the vermouth, myself, and to go a little heavier on the bitters.  The formula above is a good one to get you started and you can later tweak it as you see fit.  (I recommend drinking one every hour for two days straight until you’ve found your perfect ratio).

Add the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice and stir with a bar spoon until cold to the touch.  Strain into a cold cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

And the next time you’re at a cocktail party, raise your glass to New York City, the birthplace of a legend.


5 Responses to “Classic Cocktail: The Manhattan”

  1. Wine Lover says:

    Classic Cocktail: The Manhattan: I guess it was really only a matter of time before I got to my favorite cocktail…. http://bit.ly/ddPSAb

  2. Lowdown on NYCs contribution to the @cocktail world: THE MANHATTAN. You owe it to the city to drink one in next 24 hrs: http://bit.ly/d7rjbz

  3. *New post* Classic Cocktail Tuesdays: The Manhattan http://bit.ly/d7rjbz

  4. michele says:

    I love the Manhattan. Sometimes I add a smidgen (not a pour, or an ounce, or anything larger than this) of ginger beer, which may be considered fairly blasphemous by some, but I like it.

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