The Gourmand: A contemporary food, arts and culture journal

A Bitter New Yorker

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A Bitter New Yorker

I like a drink to present itself. To arrive on the palate like a bullish monster intent only on damaging you properly and without prejudice. For this reason, the Manhattan is my drink of choice.


There is a sublime simplicity to this ruby red beast: two parts rye whiskey, one part sweet vermouth and a generous dash of bitters, stirred with ice and strained into a martini glass garnished with a cherry. Any exception to this is not just an ignorant insult to a noble masterpiece, but a personal attack on my very existence. The hard truth is that I will judge you on your Manhattan and I will turn my back on you if you get it wrong.


Amazingly, for something with only three ingredients, it’s truly astonishing how easily people screw it up. Common mistakes include using old, stale vermouth, or switching rye for bourbon, or even omitting the bitters. But there is absolutely nothing more sacrilegious, at least in my universe, than shaking this cocktail before serving it. This has happened four times in my life — each with dire consequences. But it’s not just the way you make this masterpiece that impacts its greatness. It’s what you wear, the topic of conversation that’s fuelled by it, the company, the music, the timing. There exists an entire ecosystem of perfection that must be pre-sent to elevate this drink to the grandeur it deserves. Most importantly, it’s about place. I firmly believe in the romantic symbiosis of geography and mixology. In some cases the two are inextricably linked and conceptually inseparable (have you ever sipped a Capirinha outside of Rio?). Therefore, I would venture to offer a controversial theory that a Manhattan — served anywhere outside of the 23 square mile cocktail paradise that gave it its name — is quite simply, not real. An illusion.


To test this theory I have ordered them in bars from Shanghai to Sydney and Mumbai to Mexico City. From the finest hotels on the planet, to the roughest dive bars via countless house parties, Michelin starred restaurants, roadside cafés and country pubs. I even once persuaded a British Airways stewardess to construct one from scratch and join me in drinking several at 30,000ft above the North Atlantic (alas, no cherry). Put simply, nothing beats sipping this sophisticated brawler, this brute in a girly glass, this wolf in a ball gown than under the moon and amongst the candles of the city in which it was created (for Winston Churchill’s mother, no less).


The Manhattan was my first friend when I moved to New York two years ago and remains a respected ally. A slippery, but honest lubricant of the path to pure and unadulterated happiness.