Unlike a good beer or wine, a cocktail is made on the spot and so reflects the skill of the maker in a way not possible with a beverage simply poured from a bottle.
A Manhattan is an excellent cocktail, with much more flavor than the standard vodka or gin martini, and I believe the balance of sweet, bitter and sour has the potential to activate the palate in preparation for dinner much more effectively than these other pre-dinner classics.
My personal recipe for the Manhattan is still evolving but it’s currently 3:1 bourbon to Vermouth (half sweet and half dry), healthy dash of bitters, cherry (with stem, for visual aesthetics) in a martini glass rimmed with lemon. When you use both sweet and dry Vermouth, you get what's called a "Perfect Manhattan."
Like a well-made catsup, a Manhattan demonstrates “amplitude,” a conjunction of flavors that hits many taste sensors and builds exponentially into one perfectly balanced mouthful. It makes the tongue come alive.
Before ordering a Manhattan in a bar, I make sure the bartender will be using bitters –this ingredient is sometimes left out, and that is very wrong.
At Barclay’s American Grille, I was pleased that the bartender confirmed he used bitters. When I queried about this, he responded as though the answer should have been obvious -- I liked that. I also liked that he kept the cocktail glasses in a cooler so their temperature would not raise the temperature of the drink, which is usually shaken with ice (I prefer a lot of shaking, so that the bourbon becomes bruised and softened).
The default bourbon at Barclay’s is Jim Beam, which is fine. A more subtle bourbon would be lost in this drink; I want a bourbon that’s a little raw (the usual default mixer is Maker’s; for purists, a rye).
For $7, the Manhattan at Barclay’s is good deal.
A few years ago, I met John Mariani of Esquire, and he gave me his card, which somewhat notoriously has on the back his preferred recipe for a Daiquiri. Mariani has been pilloried for the pretentiousness of this card, but I can see why he does it: when you have a drink you really like, it’s painful when mixologists mess it up. At Barclay’s, if you order the Manhattan, they don’t.