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Grade “A” Fancy: Mr. Manhattan, you’re one of the top names in the cocktail world and we’re honored you could join us. Manhattan: My pleasure. I’m always delighted in sharing the hour before dinner with convivial company. It’s kind of “what I do.” G“A”F: I don’t think anyone would disagree with that! You really don’t need an introduction to our audience, but could you talk a little bit about the early days? M: Well, it all started in a humble log cabin out on the prairie… G“A”F: Ha! A swell like you? M: Oh, I don’t suppose I can get away with that whopper. Honestly, I’ve been around since the 1870s, if you can believe it, and even I am a little hazy about my origin at this late date. You’ve heard the old saw about my creation at a party for Samuel Tilden in the old Manhattan Club on 34th Street? Of course, that’s been pretty thoroughly debunked. It’s a good yarn, and I confess the idea of being born in a club appeals to me. I’ll tell you, I was at that party, and it was a pip, but it wasn’t my debut. A fellow called Mulhall, bartender at the Hoffman House, put out the legend that a man named Black who kept bar in a joint on Broadway just below Houston invented me sometime in the 1860s. Seems like it could

have happened that way, but I’d like the story a whole lot better if Mulhall had supplied the name of of the bar to go with the mysterious Mr. Black. G“A”F: Creation myths can be tricky. M: You said a mouthful. And those are just the Tales of Old Manhattan. There’s another one, patently fabricated out of whole cloth, referred to as the Washington Story. Apparently, I came into this world on April 17, 1846, at 8:15 AM in the Palo Alto Hotel at Bladesburg, Maryland, with one John Welby Henderson presiding as midwife-bartender. The story goes that Henderson whipped me up as a restorative for a man wounded in a duel. Now, that really strokes the old ego, doesn’t it? How romantic to have my origin linked to an affair of honor! Unfortunately, it’s the purest hokum. The source for that one was an article from 1908 in the Baltimore Sunday Sun, which was edited at the time by noted imbiber, and major league trickster, H.L. Mencken. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, kids, Mencken would have been the first to tell you that. I miss him—what that boy could do to a quart of whiskey would curl your hair. G“A”F: And the real story…? M: …is lost to the mists of time. The truth is names aren’t everything when we are talking about identity. In the cocktail game the important things are ingredients and proportions. I did some evolving in my youth. Don’t we all? The nineteenth century was a pretty wild and woolly time for me. You would have hardly recognized me back then. I was a sweet young lad; for a time I was more vermouth than whiskey. You didn’t see that coming, did you? But I settled down and became the two-to-one ratio, with a good dollop of bitters, known

uptown and down as the Manhattan. Been that way for a century now. G“A”F: Why mess with perfection? M: Don’t make me blush. I’m just one of those lucky formulas that the public still calls for, and I’m grateful. What I was saying was that I took some fine-tuning. I’d hate to be starting out nowadays. There are dozens of new concoctions that hit the bar every day. “Flash in the glass” is what I call them. Don’t get me wrong, I wish them all well. A lot of these youngsters show promise. But if your goal is to last like I have, you have to find a balance in your recipe and stick to it. A little inspirational speech for the new breed coming up. G“A”F: When did you gain your cherry? M: Oh! That was a twist, wasn’t it? Puns aside, my signature garnish was the product of a big marketing push by a guy who got stuck with a load of maraschino cherries. In the old days, before I knew any better, I was served either unadorned or with a lemon twist. No less a personage than my pal “Professor” Jerry Thomas recommended a quarter slice of lemon. Then came the big cherry fad of the 1890s. For a time maraschino cherries were the trendy luxury food and soon people were tossing them into practically everything. That’s when it started, and it stuck with me. You might argue that the cherry helped my image. But those little neon balls of Styrofoam from the supermarket I don’t recommend. Lately the fashion is to use a brandied cherry, which I applaud. G“A”F: You are closely associated with New York City by name, and you have a certain sophisticated air about you. How would you say the city has changed?

M: Where do you start? Ladies can enjoy me at any bar, that’s a big improvement over the old days. One change I can’t say that I’m happy with is the current vogue for the “casual” style. Too many of these youngsters look a fright to me—I can’t imagine what they are thinking. In my day you had to have a good front. You put on the dog whether you were Park Avenue or Hell’s Kitchen. G“A”F: Do you agree with the kvetching we hear lately about the suburbanization of our town? M: Well, I won’t argue that things are different, good or bad that depends on the individual perspective. One bit of bar etiquette—or the lack of, really—that just screams “hick town” is when some joker spills the liquid from a jar of maraschino cherries all over me. I never could figure that out, but some bartenders think it’s a snappy thing to do. I’m all dressed up in my best top-shelf liquor and then, splat! Do you know what’s in that stuff? Corn syrup! Corn is fine in Nebraska, but I’m Manhattan. G“A”F: Do you have any other fears? M: That people will never know the real me. You heard the same story from my esteemed colleague the Martini. She has had to suffer fools sloshing some iced gin in a glass and calling it a Martini. It’s an insult to ignore her French vermouth. Lately I find the same slobs denying my own Italian heritage. I’m one third Italian vermouth, and proud of it. G“A”F: I saw you looking very pale the other day— before I even took a sip I was concerned. M: And after you had a taste? G“A”F: Oh, I was glum. I had so looked forward to our

hour together, and just by your color I knew something was wrong. You weren’t your strong, spicy self. Not enough vermouth, or all booze and no bitters, doesn’t do you justice. M: Now you see what I was on about. I hate when that happens. Or when they over-shake me into a diluted, quaggy mess. G“A”F: You said you were part Italian, but I’ve heard you sometimes admit to one quarter French vermouth. M: You’re thinking of my cousin, Perfect Martini. Thinks half dry and half sweet is perfect. Then there’s Dry Manhattan, very French and likes to play the wit. Let them have their quirks, I’m still the top choice. G“A”F: And speaking of variety, what’s this about you and brandy in Wisconsin? M: What of it? When I’m out of town I don’t want to look like a tourist, so I go native. Brandy in Wisconsin, Bourbon down south, and Canadian whisky any other place I can’t find rye. I must say I’m encouraged by the revival of rye whiskey in recent years. G“A”F: We are too! And I notice there are a lot more delicious Manhattans being served because of that. M: It hasn’t been bad for business, I tell you. For good reason, too. I think the dryness of the rye is really necessary for me to be at my best. G“A”F: It’s true. Rye doesn’t dominate your personality like bourbon often can. What’s your connection with Canada?

M: Let’s just say Prohibition did wonders for Canadian whisky sales. I’ve had a friendly relationship with Canadian ever since. Seagram’s 7 is a good choice in those shot-and-a-beer joints when your choices are limited. G”A”F: Let me have your thoughts on this statement: A true gentleman is never out of place. M: I’m comfortable in an old saloon, a noisy airport lounge, or a first-class hotel bar. You usually see me served straight up, but it doesn’t ruffle my feathers if people like me on the rocks. If I may be honest, I don’t mind the way I look in one of those cut glass double rocks glasses. I’m versatile, and that may well be the secret to my longevity. G“A”F: It seems like you’re enjoying a resurgence in popularity, or comeback, if you will. M: Oh, horseshit. It’s no comeback. Those in the know never stopped liking me. A bunch of the younger generation just recently gets wise and I do believe they think they invented me! You have to laugh at the heavy tariff they want to charge the suckers to pretend I’m a delicate and precious dainty. You’ll still find me at Keens, or P.J. Clarke’s, or the Old Town, just the same as ever, and without the hocus-pocus. G“A”F: One last question; you are more Broadway than Hollywood, but you have been in the movies? M: Sure, plenty. Too many to count, really. I had a starring role in a picture called “Manhattan Cocktail” with Nancy Carroll in 1928. Probably before your time. That was a big one for me, but wouldn’t you know it, the print seems to have vanished. G“A”F: Thank you for your time, sir. M: Thanks for having me.

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There are various recipes out there but the standard, our basic is:

The Manhattan For two drinks: 4 ounces rye whiskey 2 ounces Italian vermouth Dash of Angostura Bitters Cherry Stir liquids over ice in a mixing glass until very cold. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry, preferably home-made. If you do not have Angostura bitters, go to the store immediately. Without it your drink is nowheresville.

A toast: Vehement silhouettes of Manhattan…that vertical city with unimaginable diamonds. — When the Cathedrals Were White Le Corbusier, 1937

The Cravat An impulse liquor emporium purchase of Maraska Pelinkovac, a Croatian herbal bitter heavy on the wormwood, inspired this departure that we have named after stylish neckwear. For two drinks: 4 ounces rye whiskey 1-1/2 ounces Italian vermouth 1/2 ounces Maraska Pelinkovac Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters Cherry Stir liquids over ice until well chilled. Strain in to a pre-chilled cocktail glass or champagne coupe. Garnish with a cocktail cherry, preferably home-made. A toast: To innocence, and still more innocence! — The Sin of Harold Diddlebock Preston Sturges, 1947

Variations The Martini is dangerously easy to destroy if you are a lazy mixer or stray from the precise instructions. Conversely, the basic formula of the Manhattan is very forgiving, so it’s easy to play with and build some variations if you’re taking a vacation from your usual. Bitters Angostura Bitters, a nineteenth century stomachic first used for treatment of seasickness, has polished the Manhattan into the modern, invigorating pick-me-up we know and love today. Early versions using absinthe or orange bitters are okay but Angostura makes the Manhattan the perfect appetizer. For variety try another aromatic such as Boker’s, or Fee Bros. Old Fashion Bitters, or substitute an amaro like Cynar, or bitter apertivo, perhaps Torani Amer or Campari. Aromatic Wine An easy variation, one of our favorites, can be made by swapping the Italian vermouth for Dubonnet Rouge. It’ll bring a fresh, quinine zip to your Manhattan. Garnish If you must, you may replace the cherry with a lemon twist.

Which Whiskey? The marketing dollars behind premium bourbon have succeeded in making many folks believe that bourbon is the required whiskey in the Manhattan. Nope! Rye appears to be the original, if only because New York City was a rye-drinkin’ town. You’ll find that a classic Manhattan made with rye whiskey is a far superior beverage. Rye is drier than bourbon, a perfect foil for a sweet mixer. Bourbon, with its KERPOW! muscle and frank sweetness dominates the drink, whereas rye blends flawlessly. When we find ourselves in a room without rye, we opt for Canadian whisky which is not as spicy as rye but drier than other options and affably mixable. Irish whiskey isn’t bad; try it someday. Scotch is a welcome variation at times; your drink is then called a Rob Roy. Since the cocktail’s earliest stirrings, making up new names for drinks that are given even the slightest switcheroo has been irresistible so it’s amazing that a non-whiskey variation using brandy is merely a regional quirk in Wisconsin; the name remains Manhattan.


Don’t discount the value of a toy to perk up your cocktail hour. Unfortunately, the modern store-bought maraschino cherry can only be appreciated on that basis, and might just as well be made of Revell’s finest polystyrene. Still, there’s no getting around it, your Manhattan needs a garnish. Even a full glass looks strangely empty without a fruity red orb reposing on the bottom. There is no official garnish mentioned in the earliest recipes for the Manhattan. Everybody’s bar crush, Jerry Thomas, in the 1887 edition of his manual, prescribes a slice of lemon. What the fangdoodle? The 1897 Cakes and Ale, and others of the period, suggest lemon peel. That opens the door for history buffs and connoisseurs alike to serve ’em up sans frills, or to substitute a twist of lemon peel. The twist is a fine option, and a safe one too, if you’re in a strange bar and unsure of the groceries. In fact that is exactly our policy with Martinis when we haven’t had the opportunity to gauge the quality of a saloon’s olives. But there is some-

thing undeniably iconic about a cherry in a Manhattan, and we miss it when it isn’t there. The cherry made its cocktail-glass debut during the Great Maraschino Craze of the 1890s. Marasca cherries, preserved in Maraschino liqueur, made a big hit when they were first imported to the U.S. at the close of the nineteenth century. A delicacy served in grand hotels, they were a luxury signaling high-class European taste. Typically, with the smell of money in the air, folks in this country quickly started experimenting with a domestic version made with local cherries and cheaper liquor. These substitutions brought the price way down and kicked off a “maraschino” cherry fad that raged on into the early years of the twentieth century. A good way to sell them, among other decorative applications, was in a cocktail. Fine and dandy, but the degradation of the cherry wasn’t over yet. Already divorced from its original liqueur, the program continued to eradicate anything cherry-like, or just delicious, from the blameless fruit. The final stroke came during the depths

of Prohibition when Ernest Wiegand slunk onto the stage, twirling and enormous, black mustache straight out of a melodrama (note: this is artistic license; Mr. Wiegand’s mustache was a very neat, pencil-thin affair, entirely in keeping with the mode of his day.) By brining, bleaching and dyeing, through a series of processes that would give Dr. Frankenstein something to think about, he “perfected” the modern, tasteless, day-glo, alcohol-free travesty we know today as the “maraschino” cherry. Curse you, Mr. Wiegand. So what to do? If you want something that comes closest to what you might have gotten in the Gay Nineties, and you don’t care what it costs or how hard it is to hunt them down, you can still buy Luxardo Marasca Cherries. These are the real babies, marinated in the genuine Maraschino liqueur. Less traditional, but a delicious substitute might be any variety of brandied cherry. These can be easier to find, but they are also pricey. The tastiest, most economical and plainly most fun alternative to the supermarket Frankencherry is to make your own. There are many recipes in print and online, and we’re forever clipping them with the best intentions, but our own Grade “A” lazyman’s process is so tasty we’ve never gotten around to trying the others. It’s a simple project with the added benefit of being able to fine-tune the recipe to your individual taste. We’ll give you our own concoction, which saw many trials in our Grade “A” Fancy test kitchens before perfection was attained. But you will want to do your own experiments, we suspect, so let’s start with a few basics:

• Leave the pits in. They will keep their shape better and it helps the flavor, too. If you can’t deal with spitting out the stone at the end of your cocktail, pit them as you take them out of the jar. You’ll need a cherry pitter; the kind that looks like a ticket punch works like gangbusters and shouldn’t cost more than ten dollars. • Use good booze, it’s always worth it. When the fruit is gone you’ll have the best cherry cordial leftovers. Great Manhattans and a bonus digestif; those are the reasons you’re bothering to do this. Here now is our formula for Grade “A” Fancy Manhattan cherries: Fill a glass jar with sour cherries. We prefer to leave the pits in (see above), however you may choose to pit them before they go in the jar. Leave on the stems, if you like having a natural handle, or you can pull them off for a streamlined effect. Add a splash of Amaretto, then cover the cherries with cognac or brandy. Cap and let steep at room temperature for a week or two. They are ready to use when they taste delicious. You can keep them in the refrigerator for a year without a problem, but you’ll use them up before then, most likely.

Notes on booze: Amaretto lends a complexity to the brandy, adding some sweetness with a hint of almond, reminiscent of Maraschino liqueur. We’ve tried simply marinating the cherries in straight Maraschino, but the result was too sugary-sweet for us. You can vary this recipe in countless ways, replacing the brandy with a different spirit, the Amaretto with another liqueur, or changing the proportions to suit your taste. Just know that you will never settle • Use sour cherries. The Marasca is a for those store-bought atrocities ever again. European tart cherry, ours is the Montmorency. This is the only tricky part of the recipe because in NYC they’re available at the greenmarket for just a few weeks in early summer. So you’ll want to soak enough to last at least a year.

The Top of Manhattan A short list of exemplary purveyors of the Manhattan here in New York City.

PJ Clarke’s 915 3rd Avenue Gallagher’s 228 West 52nd Street Gene’s 73 West 11th Street Keens Chop House 72 West 36th Street Malachy’s 103 West 72nd Street O’Connor’s 39 Fifth Avenue Park Slope, Brooklyn Old Town 45 East 18th Street

Grade “A” Fancy is published by

Karen McBurnie & Jon Hammer until they run out of ice. © 2011 All words and artworks are original, as in we no stealee nothing.

Profile for Karen McBurnie

Manhattan Confidential  

An interview with the Manhattan, world famous cocktail and bon vivant.

Manhattan Confidential  

An interview with the Manhattan, world famous cocktail and bon vivant.