The scene at the bar tonight:
Me: I’ll have a Manhattan. Let’s try it with Stranahan’s. [A nice, local “frontier” whiskey]
Bartender tentatively fills an old fashioned with the whiskey and then thumbs through his copy of Mr. Boston….
Ok, now he knows what he’s doing—he looks confident and starts hunting for the vermouth. He looks right at it with unseeing eyes, gives up, and goes to another part of the bar to hunt. I’m helpful:
Me: It’s right there—you just passed it—the Cinzano.
Him: Errr, oh.
He grabs the green bottle and starts to upend it over my embryonic cocktail.
Me: NO! You want the red bottle.
Him: Oh, ok.
He dispenses a few drops of the vermouth into the whiskey. There are worse things, I decide.
He carries my drink to the ice station, fills a second old fashioned with ice, then produces a bottle of the house sour mix and begins to upend it over my drink.
Him [taken aback]: Not even a drop?
Me: Of orange juice? Not a drop.
Jerry Thomas, Jr pours my whiskey and vermouth over the ice in the second old fashioned (I let it slide), adds the cherry, and I’m about to remind him about the bitters, but he remembers all by himself. We’re home free. He opens the bitters and adds four big dashes with the expertise of a trucker dousing hash browns in catsup.
Fuck it. $8.
Bar owners, bartenders, and anyone else who aspires to be civilized, here’s how to make a Manhattan Cocktail. There is room for variation, but this is canonical:
When you receive the order, immediately start a cocktail glass chilling by filling it with ice and water. Ignore it until it gets cold.
Now, grab a cocktail mixing glass. This could be a pint glass, a steel shaker, or a clean mason jar. It doesn’t matter. Fill it with ice.
To the mixer of ice add whiskey and sweet vermouth in a ratio of 4:1 or 5:1. E.g., 2-1/2oz Bulleit:1/2oz Carpano Antica. (Some will insist that Rye or Canadian whiskey must be used. I think any whiskey is fine, as long as it suits the drinkers’ taste. In this, Manhattans are exactly like Martinis.)
Mix the spirits with the ice for a while, swirling them gently with a cocktail spoon or other longish implement (a chopstick will work in a pinch). Your objective is to get them ice cold without diluting them with ice too much. Tell an interesting anecdote for 30–60 seconds as you swirl.
Dump the ice and water from the chilling cocktail glass, add a maraschino cherry to it (use Luxardo Maraschino cherrys if you’re fancy), and then strain the whiskey/vermouth mixture into the cocktail glass. Finish by adding one or two dashes of Angosturan bitters on top. Serve immediately.
Tips: Take your time—few cocktails have been ruined by too much attention; the better the spirits, the better the drink; basic variations are: serve on the rocks (in an old-fashioned); garnish with a slice of orange peel (instead of cherry).