Recently Rosemary, Maggie and I made a trip to New York City to do some research. I decided that I was going to have a Manhattan cocktail at every bar I went to and find the best Manhattan in Manhattan. I decided to have them made with Michter’s Rye when possible and was only disappointed once when one bar, Maysville, did not have it on the bar. We were there for two and a half days and covered a wide range of bars. The Manhattans were for the most part very good Manhattans and there is an ephemeral nature to drinking cocktails that should also be taken into count. The atmosphere of the location and the general setting do have an effect on the experience. I ended up tasting ten different Manhattans while in Manhattan and I will rate them from 1 (the best) to 10 (the worst of the group). Here is what I discovered.
We stayed at the NoMad Hotel so the first stop was the Elephant Bar. The Manhattan was well crafted and the rye flavor came through very nicely. The bartender was very knowledgeable and I was very pleased with this start. However, her Manhattan was number 4 on my list.
The next stop was the Grand Havana Room, a cigar smoking club with a bar and restaurant. The Manhattan was enjoyed with a cigar and the great company of Phil Smolowitz, a New York native and member of the Grand Havana Room. The Manhattan was my least favorite on the trip. It was shaken and watery and not much whiskey flavor. I rank it at number 10 for the trip.
Our next stop that day was the Flatiron Room. We had a wonderful meal and the Manhattan was excellent and I rank it at number 2 for the trip but the best of that day. Our final stop before heading back to the NoMad was Maysville. This bar is just down the street from the Flatiron Room and has a great selection of whiskey, however they did not have Michter’s Rye so I substituted Old Overholt in ordering the Manhattan. The Manhattan was well prepared but it was not as whiskey forward as I like. That was probably because of the 80 proof Old Overholt but I still rank it as number 7 for the trip.
The next day was a slow day as far as Mahattans went. We visited Widow Jane Distillery, the Metropolitan Art Museum, and I had a cigar at Nat Sherman Townhouse, but there were no Manhattans involved. We then met Michter’s VP Connie Kam and her husband at Le Bernardin for dinner. The food was excellent and the Manhattan was even better. Perfectly stirred with a very whiskey forward flavor. I had two. This was the number 1 Manhattan on this trip.
After leaving Le Bernadin we went to Grand Central Station to have a drink at the Campbell Apartment. I ordered a Michter’s Rye Manhattan as did Maggie, while Rosemary had the house Manhattan. Rosemary’s Manhattan was good but the ones sent to Maggie and myself were horrible – they tasted of turpentine. I sent them back and the manager sent out two new ones that turned out to be good Manhattans. Judging from the color the bartender made the first ones with dry vermouth and that was not even a good dry vermouth. I rank the second one as number 6 on this trip. It may have been higher if the first Manhattan had not left such a bad taste in my mouth. We headed back to the hotel after that for a good night’s sleep because we knew we had a long day on Saturday.
Saturday started with a trip to King’s County Distillery for a tour and a visit with Colin Spoelman, their distiller and founder. After the tour we went back to Manhattan to meet Phil to start a cigar tour of the city. We met him at Club Macanudo for a cigar, lunch and a Manhattan. It was a drinkable Manhattan but weak on the whiskey flavor and a little watery. I rank it as number 8 for the trip.
The next stop that involved a Manhattan was at Fine & Rare. The Manhattan was very good and I rank it as number 3 for the trip and the best I had on Saturday. Our next stop was Hudson Bar and Books for a cigar and a Manhattan. Phil thought this might be a place with a great Manhattan but we were both disappointed when they brought it out. It was shaken, not stirred and very watery. It ended up being number 9 on my list.
The last Manhattan of the day was at the Brandy Library. They had a good Manhattan but it was not very whiskey forward otherwise, it was very well crafted and I will rank it as number 5.
This was a very enjoyable experience. All of the places we went to had Manhattans that were very drinkable and I would recommend any of these bars as a place for a drink. It is very hard to create a list and if I went back and did the stops again, they might end up in a different order. Visit them yourself and let me know what you think.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Rosemary Miller