Often, when ordering a Manhattan, I'll become the object of derision, especially when we're out with people who don't really drink cocktails (sorry, Stoli Vanilla & diet Coke isn't a cocktail, and a vodka "martini" isn't either - it's cold vodka until the end, when it's usually warm vodka, and how delicious is that?). Invariably, I'll hear something along the lines of "Oh, my grandmother/mother/great aunt used to drink those." In which case, I'll sigh and reply, "Well then, she must've been one helluva smart lady."
You see, the Manhattan is a drink that both Significant Eater and I adore - not just because we live in Manhattan, or because the drink was invented in Manhattan, or because one of MY great aunts actually did drink them, but because it's just a damn good drink. Speaking of my great aunt who really did drink Manhattans; she was about 4'10" tall, weighed under 100 pounds, smoked Marlboro REDS all her life and lived till she was deep into her 80's. Not bad, eh?
But back to the Manhattan, and for all the history about this classic cocktail you should check out David Wondrich's Imbibe! (or any of Dave's other books, for that matter), a great read for those serious about drinks. You can head over to eGullet, where I'm a volunteer host and check out the topic about Manhattan's, for numerous and varying points of view.
For Significant Eater and me, we'll take our Manhattans with rye whiskey, thank you. I appreciate a Manhattan made with bourbon, but prefer the spiciness of the rye. And if it's 100 proof or more, all the better. Checking out my liquor cabinet this morning, I found a small sampling of ryes, most of which are available for around $15 a bottle - take that, Grey Goose!
That BIG bottle in the middle is not rye (nor is the small bottle on the left, obviously) - it's Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, a most delicious red vermouth from Italy which makes for an unforgettable Manhattan with the right rye. I like the 100 proof Rittenhouse on the far right, and the Wild Turkey at 101 isn't bad (but you can't go wrong with any of them, imo). And don't forget the bitters either, folks...
The two tiny bottles of bitters on the right are homemade bitters from a friend of mine...brilliant recreations of classic bitters which are sadly no longer available. The rest are widely available, and any one of them is a necessity in your Manhattan.
So, get out a mixing glass, add 2 or 2 1/2 ounces of rye, 1 oz. of sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of bitters, fill it with cracked ice and stir like crazy before decanting into your favorite cocktail glass. You can garnish with a real maraschino cherry or a nice lemon twist (my preference). If you want that Manhattan perfect, split the vermouth 50/50 between sweet and dry...but don't forget the bitters. Sip slowly and savor the goodness of a cocktail that's been making Manhattanites and others happy for a long time.