A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 12, 2004
Manhattan Cocktail
The Manhattan cocktail (whiskey and sweet Italian vermouth) is supposedly named after the Manhattan Club, although this is in dispute. Early citations pre-1885 are hard to find. I found two.


Wikipedia: Manhattan (cocktail)
A Manhattan is a cocktail made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Commonly used whiskeys include rye (the traditional choice), Canadian, bourbon and Tennessee. Proportions of whiskey to vermouth vary, from a very sweet 1:1 ratio to a much less sweet 4:1 ratio. The cocktail is often stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, where it is garnished with a Maraschino cherry with a stem. A Manhattan is also frequently served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass (lowball glass).

The Manhattan is one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It has been called a drinking man's cocktail — strong, urbane, and simple. It has also been called the "king of cocktails."

Origin and history
A popular history suggests that the drink originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the early 1870s, where it was invented for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston's mother) in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The success of the banquet made the drink fashionable, later prompting several people to request the drink by referring the name of the club where it originated — "the Manhattan cocktail." The original "Manhattan cocktail" was a mix of "American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura bitters".

However, there are prior references to various similar cocktail recipes called "Manhattan" and served in the Manhattan area. By one account it was invented in the 1860s by a bartender named Black at a bar on Broadway near Houston Street.

5 September 1882, The Democrat (Olean, Cattaraugus County, NY), pg. 1, col. 6:
NEW YORK LETTER.
NOTES AND NEWS FROM GIDDY GOTHAM.
A Spicy Letter of Interest to Everybody Dished up in a Palatable Manner.
(From our regular correspondent.)
NEW YORK, August 31st 1882.
(...)
Talking about compounders of drinks reminds me of the fact that never before has the taste for "mixed drinks" been so great as at present and new ideas, and new combinations are constantly being brought forward. It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names -- Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail. Bartenders at first were sorely puzzled what was wanted when it was demanded. But now they are fully cognizant of its various aliases and no difficulty is encountered. At one of the hotels, famous for its bar, a new drink has just been invented. It consists of brandy, a touch of bitters, a dash of Maraschino a suspicion of lemon and plenty of ice. They call it a foxhound cocktail and its invention is attributed to a well known hunting man, who in his moments of leisure at Newport concocted it and on his return to the city confided the secret to the head bartender of the hotel alluded to. It is an excellent appetizer and its inventor claims that as an after dinner drink it cannot be surpassed since he has found it to be and best aid to digestion he has partaken of.

4 December 1883, Washington Star, pg. 7, col. 2:
LIFE IN CHICAGO.
A Barkeeper Tells a Reporter Some of
the Secrets of His Art.
From the Chicago Tribune.
"What'll it be, gents?"

"Gimme a gin fizz, Tommy."
(...)
The manager spun a half-dollar upon the bar, the two said, "Well, here's a go," and the two beakers of "coffin-varnish" were quaffed with sundary smacks and "ohs."
(...)
"What us the popular drink nowadays?" he asked.

"Gin fizz," said the artist, as he turned off part of the gas on his glittering diamond stud. "There's a great run on that now, and we sell hundreds of them a day at twenty cents each. You see every barkeeper has his own way of making gin fizzes, and some of them have no egg and fill up the drink with seltzer. My style is sometimes called a silver fizz. Where the yolk of an egg is used instead of the white the drink is called a golden fizz. The silver fizz is what catches 'em, though."

"Is the whisky sour a popular drink?"

"Well, our sours are very popular now. The claret 'snap' is what hits 'em hard. The claret makes the drink look well and it gives it a better taste. Men who drink our sours expect a claret at every bar, and when it is not put in they ask for it. It's getting circulated now, and other places are adopting our flourish."

"Manhattan cocktails are in demand, too," said the artist. "I introduced them some time ago, and they have become quite popular. They are made of vermouth and gin. I used to keep a bottle of it compounded and serve it out regularly."

"What is a 'blue-blazer?'"

"Well, a 'blue-blazer' is a drink made of rum or Scotch whisky. The liquor is set on fire and poured from one glass to another. A blue blaze follows the stream, and there is where the name comes from. But this drink is seldom called for over a first-class bar. It is a great country drink, as the 'jays' think more of watching the blaze than they do of the drink."

"What other drinks have you?"

"The gin puff is a favorite drink. It is composed of Old Tom gin, sugar, cream and plain soda. Then there is the pousse cafe, which is a mixture of brandy, bitters and several cordials, carefully poured in layers in a 'pony-brandy' glass."

9 December 1883, Sunday Herald (Boston, MA), pg. 13, col. 2:
A Manhattan cocktail, by the way, is a very good drink just before dinner. It is the ordinary vermouth cocktail with a foundation of first-rate Bourbon whiskey. I do not advise the BOSTON HERALD readers to drink anything, but, if they will drink, I think they will agree with me that a Manhattan cocktail is about as good as anything that can be manufactured.

8 March 1899, Racine (WI) Daily Journal, pg. 8, col. 5:
MANHATTAN COCKTAIL
Invented by Col Joe Walker Under
Pressure of Circumstances.

"The Manhattan cocktail is a delightful appetizer when properly prepared," said a local connoisseur in the art of living, "but it is easily ruined by unskillful hands. It is the invention, by the way, of a native of New Orleans, and the story of its origin is rather curious. Years ago Col. Joe Walker, of New Orleans, was in New York, and went on a little yachting trip with a party of friends. By some oversight the liquid refreshments in the icebox were confined to Italian vermouth and plain whisky, and it occurred to the colonel that a palatable drink might be made by mixing the two. The results were so good that he experimented a little on his return to New Orleans, and soon perfected the Manhattan cocktail, as it is known to-day. It was christened in honor of his friends on Manhattan island, and the fame of the decoction soon spread all over the country. The true Manhattan cocktail is always made with Italian vermouth, but at half the places where they undertake to serve them, French vermouth is substituted, and the fine flavor is altogether destroyed. French vermouth is a sort of wine, while Italian vermouth is a cordial, pure and simple. They are as different as milk and molasses. A cocktail made from the French brand is no more a Manhattan cocktail than it is a Spanish omelette."

15 March 1945, Buckeye Tavern, "Patrick Murphy's The Barman's Corner," pg. 6, col. 2:
From out of Manhattan last week came data from Ed Gibbs, one of the trade's 'way-back-when columnist and now a publisher and newsletter writer (Gibbs once wrote for the BUCKEYE TAVERN -- ed.), to the effect that the Manhattan Cocktail has a definite date of origin. If so, this will be one of the very few cocktails which can be nailed down as to time and place of birth. The Gibbs' version, which in turn is from sources he labels as his "research department," declares that on a memorable December 29, 1874, evening at the Manhattan Club, "in the old A. T. Stewart Mansion -- now the Empire State Blg.," a testimonial dinner was held in honor of Samuel J. Tilden. This is the Tilden, history-wise readers will recall, who received a majority vote of the U. S. A. when Presidential candidate, but was defeated by the electoral college set-up. Official notes on the banquet alluded to declare that the dinner was preceded by a drink made of "American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura Bitters." It proved so popular that club members asked for it again and again, hence became known as the Manhattan Cocktail.

This reads well but we must remain a bit dubious. For instance, it is quite probable that the drink was served before that December 29th evening in the Manhattan clubrooms--it may have been the house drink of several years. And old bar guides, one that we have being originally printed in 1860, list many a Manhattan Cocktail, so the name antedates the event Mr. Gibbs speaks of. (What bar guide is this? -- ed.)

Many early Manhattans called for a dash of this or that -- absinthe, or orange bitters or even curacao. Harry Johnson stipulated a twist of lemon peel as the garnish, back in the 1870's, in contrast to today's maraschino cherry garnish. The drink was evidently a vermouth and whiskey combination, but had local variations.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Monday, July 12, 2004 • Permalink