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    The Manhattan is the quintessential blend of straight rye whiskey and vermouth, rounded out by bitters. With the diminishing presence of rye since Prohibition, bourbon has supplanted it. If the mundane is your cup of tea, believe this story of origin: A saloon keeper on the Lower East Side looked out the window of his establishment and named this pre-eminently classic cocktail for Manhattan Island. If your tastes tend to the more colorful, go with this one: Jennie Churchill—the bibulous Winston’s American mother—hosted a party at New York’s Manhattan Club in 1874 to celebrate the newly elected governor, William J. Tilden. The anonymous bartender honored both Tilden and the club by christening the new drink the Manhattan. The only other story in the running was also generated from the same locale but for a different person. The year was 1890, and the instigator in this case was Supreme Court justice Charles Henry Truax. According to James Villas in Villas at Table, Truax’s daughter claims that Truax asked a Manhattan Club bartender to mix him up a new drink because his doctor told him to stop imbibing martinis if he wanted to lose weight. The doctor’s credentials, as far as we know, have never been challenged on the caloric qualities of martinis versus Manhattans.

    Manhattans may be served sweet, perfect, or dry, with blended whiskey or bourbon, but the original was mixed with rye. The cocktail immediately supplied the well-heeled with a sophisticated way to slug down whiskey. The Manhattan will never overtake the martini’s status, but it must be heralded alongside its gin counterpart in the peerage of great classic cocktails. On a final historical note, Tilden won the popular vote for the U.S. presidency in 1876 but lost in the electoral. It makes one wonder what Al Gore is drinking these days.

    The Manhattan has never gone out of fashion in traditional bars and hotels, but according to many young bartenders, it is now making its way to the trendier bar scene—albeit with bourbon, not rye. This is definitely one drink you need to know how to make as a home bartender. No excuses.

    The Manhattan was conceived with rye as its essential component, but the consensus is that even if you don’t use rye, Manhattans should be made with American whiskey, such as a good bourbon. In fact, if you use Scotch, you will have created a Rob Roy. The Manhattan has its shaker and stirrer adherents, but the debate is nowhere as rancorous as the martini’s. The major defense for shaking a martini is that it be teeth-chatteringly cold. That is not the case with the Manhattan, but shaking does impart a momentary frothiness that some find appealing. A classic Manhattan requires a maraschino cherry.


    1. 1Stir the rye or bourbon, vermouth, and bitters in a pitcher half filled with ice, or shake them with ice; then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.


    Dry Manhattan: Substitute dry vermouth for the sweet vermouth, and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
    Perfect Manhattan: Substitute half dry and half sweet vermouth for the sweet vermouth, and garnish with a twist of lemon peel or a maraschino cherry.
    Tequila Manhattan: Substitute tequila for the whiskey, use only half the sweet vermouth, and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

    • Manhattan

    This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food team.
    Copyright Quirk Books

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