Whenever I order a Manhattan, I feel just a little bit like a certain dashing English spy in his Majesty’s Secret Service.
While James Bond and I do not share the same cocktail of choice, I’d like to think we share a certain savoir-faire, that comes from having one’s own go-to, classic cocktail.
Despite ordering his martini shaken, not stirred (we’ll permit him this singular gaffe), it’s clearly not 007’s first cocktail rodeo. He doesn’t have to shift nervously about or waste time looking at the house menu or God forbid, ask for some day-glo concoction with a tawdry name.
Rather, Bond is a man who knows precisely what he wants in his glass and therefore, is free to focus his attentions on other more important objectives, like the secret microfiche or his next sexual conquest. Or both.
For me, the Manhattan is such a cocktail and why I order it whenever possible while sipping in my adopted hometown of New Orleans.
Whether in a craft bar or a dive, one never has to apologize for ordering one. Perennially in style, always inappropriate, the very word Manhattan emerges out of the mouth sounding sharp and confident. Neither masculine nor feminine, a Manhattan is gender fluid.
In short, the Manhattan is one of the more superlative drinks on the planet, which explains its enduring appeal since it first came into being sometime in the 1870s, in a posh 5th Avenue gents bastion called the Manhattan Club.
There are some who posit that the cocktail was first served at an event attended by Winston’s mum, Lady Randolph Churchill. However, the renowned cocktail historian David Wondrich dubs this theory “horseshit.”
Whether in a craft bar or a dive, one never has to apologize for ordering a Manhattan.
Although their proportions have shifted slightly over time, the Manhattan’s basic ingredients have not: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, a dash or two of bitters, all stirred together with ice and strained into a cocktail couple, garnish.
But like Martinis, a Manhattan allows for a few acceptable permutations—bourbon instead or rye, regular bitters or orange, lemon peel or cherry, coupe or lowball, even a singular a cube of ice in the latter—all of which mean the Manhattan drinker can be just a bit particular about preparation without coming off as a fusty s.o.b.
Even wider variations exist, particularly in New Orleans where barrel-aged rum sometimes takes the place of rye, offering a slightly sweeter take.
For the ultimate in cool, try ordering your Manhattan “perfect,” named not for the fact that is, but because of the perfect or equal balance of sweet and dry vermouth. The mix results in a slightly crisper bite.