Happy Hour History: The Manhattan

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Few drinks have the classic cocktail cachet of the Manhattan. While others have gone in and out of fashion, the Manhattan has always hung in there. Easy to make with a well-balanced flavor that’s both warm and big, the Manhattan is rugged, classy treat.

One legend suggests the cocktail was created at the Manhattan Club in New York City in 1874 at the behest of Jennie Jerome (aka, Lady Randolph Churchill) to celebrate the election of Samuel J. Tilden as governor of New York. Jerome, a fascinating character whose biography reads like a Henry James novel, was the archetype of the New Woman in the era of Gibson Girls.

To link the spirited, smart Jerome to the Manhattan is almost too perfect. And it is. The story doesn’t hold up as Jerome was in England at the time about to give birth to her son Winston. Yes, that Winston.

The more likely origin goes back to a bartender named Black, who first served up the drink in the 1860s at a bar near Houston Street in Manhattan. Early versions used rye since it was the easiest variety of whiskey to come by in New York at the time. Rye remains the standard; though, bourbon is a perfectly cromulent substitution, especially if you prefer a sweeter, smokier flavor.

The sweet vermouth and bitters (traditionally, Angostura) were also part of the original preparation. The maraschino cherry garnish, however, came a few decades later since those weren’t available in the US until the early 1900s.

The Manhattan Recipe

Ingredients
3 oz. whiskey
1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
6 dashes Angostura Bitters

Directions: Combine ingredients with ice, shake, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. You can also serve it over ice in a tumbler.

Enjoy while listening to this.

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso.

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