The ManHattan

London Evening Standard
Evening Standard Cocktails Blog
09 May 2012 

The Manhattan

“Bartender, I’d like a Manhattan, please”, says Bette Midler… 

Tom Waits and Bette MidlerTom Waits and Bette Midler: I Never Talk to Strangers

…and once the piano has bluesed the scene, and Bette has placed her order in a prim, teasing Upper East Side sort of voice, a sax squawks and Tom Waits announces his presence, making it clear that this is a duet. “Aaaargghghghghmmmm,” he says. Or perhaps it’s more of a “Hi”¦rgghrgh…umm.” At any rate, you get the picture: downtown bar, grizzled barfly spots classy lady at ten o’clock, sidles up, clears his not inconsiderable throat and tries his luck: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one”¦”

I’m not sure what Waits is drinking, probably Scotch and razorblades. (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy,” he once explained to a chat show host). But we can be fairly certain that it is a Manhattan that fuels Bette Midler’s worldly put-downs. “Now tell me do you really think I’d fall for that old lie?” she teases. “I was not born just yesterday.”

And yet her choice of drink sort of gives her away. Would a real Manhattan lady wonder into a bar on her own and order something as potent as a Manhattan? Even if it is her municipal drink? Even given the robust palates of earlier generations? Even given that the Manhattan is among the finest cocktails yet discovered (sultry, smoky, rich, compelling), there’s something determined about that. She is seeking a similar shade of oblivion to Waits ; “I’ve been around the block so many times,” as she blearily concedes. He dutifully does the math: Tough drink + tough broad = “You’re bitter ”˜cos he left you, that’s why you’re drinking in this bar”.

And so, this pair of strangers would appear to have fallen in love, the suckers, with the sentimental denouement has already foreshadowed in the very first line. A Manhattan, of course, is made with bourbon, vermouth ”“ and bitters. It is tough, but just sweet enough. It’s proper Manhattan.  In a contemporary version of I Never Talk to Strangers, the Bette Midler character would order a Cosmopolitan instead; she wouldn’t have finished the night lighting a cigarette on Tom Waits’s mattress; she would be typing something sassy on her laptop, alone. Times change, huh?

Then again, while I tend to think of the Manhattan as a masculine, after-dark, aftershave-y sort of drink, one that goes well with smoke, steak and Miles Davis, it wasn’t ever thus. There’s a wonderful scene in Some Like It Hot, where Marilyn Monroe fixes a round of Manhattans for an entire female orchestra on a train, after lights out. Her resourcefulness when faced with a bottle of bourbon is highly impressive: “Who’s got some vermouth?”; “Run down to the pantry car and get some ice would ya?” I suppose that’s why everyone fell in love with her.

2 ½ shots of bourbon (or rye)
1 shot of Italian vermouth
Dash of bitters (essential)

Orange twist (or maraschino cherry if you’ve a decent one)


Freeze your glass, and actually do this habitually, save me having to remind you. Pour the ingredients into you shaker – you are looking for a 5:2 ratio of bourbon to vermouth, which roughly equates to a hefty glug plus a generous dash.  Stir the ingredients with a whole lot of ice for quite some time, then strain into the ice cold glass. Twist the orange to release fine spray of bitters, then drop into the glass and consume immediately.

For a Perfect Manhattan, use  ½ shot of French vermouth,  ½ shot of Italian (so, a 5:1:1 ratio) – the term “Perfect” in this context means equal parts each vermouth. For a Dry Manhattan, use all French vermouth (though I find this too dry). As an aside, when I was a cocktail pup, I used to make Manhattans with Cinzano, which is a sweet, white Italian vermouth. It may not have been correct, but at the time, my ignorance was pretty blissful.

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One thought on “The ManHattan

  1. “I Never Talk To Strangers” has always been a favorite. Listening to it right now.

    On a totally different subject, Thank You Mr. President, A Historic Day. Whatever comes tomorrow Let Us Be Thankful…………………..

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