What: A classic cocktail made of whiskey (traditionally rye), sweet vermouth, bitters (usually Angostura), and a maraschino cherry, the Manhattan has its origins, of course, in the borough of Manhattan, at the Manhattan Club or a joint on Broadway, depending on whom you ask—neither is still around—sometime in the late 19th century. It may seem simple and perhaps a bit old-fashioned in light of the fancy mixology available today, but this is a real cocktail—hefty yet handsome, strong but smooth.
Where: We believe that in NYC, where you sip a Manhattan has as much to do with the surroundings as the drink itself. To that end, we head straight to the heart of the Theater District, to the legendary 1927-established Sardi’s (234 W. 44th St., betw. Seventh & Eighth Aves., map), a time capsule of a restaurant famous for the celebrity caricatures blanketing its walls and for being the birthplace of the Tony Award. Yep, it’s touristy, but we’re not the only jaded New Yorkers who can appreciate this spot—you’re still liable to meet a few theater-biz people quaffing martinis at the low-key upstairs bar after the pre-theater dinner rush (sadly, the once-complimentary crackers and tubs of cheese are now $3-$5 off the bar menu). Keep in mind that atmosphere and history, not food, are Sardi’s strong suits.
When: Tues-Sat, 11:30am-11:30pm; Sun, noon-7pm. We advise hitting the upstairs bar after 8pm on a weeknight.
Order: A Manhattan ($11), which they serve here in a stemless martini glass. Rye whiskey is used, but purists beware: If you want bitters in your drink, you have to request it. For whatever reason, bitters-optional is the preference of the longtime Sardi’s bartender (still working there) who makes the bar’s rules.
Alternatively: Another fittingly atmospheric, old-New York, Manhattan-appropriate bar in Midtown is the storied 21 Club (21 W. 52nd St., betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., map)—expect to pay a few bucks more. A trendier downtown option is West Village hot spot Employees Only (510 Hudson St., nr Christopher St., map), where $15 will get you an expertly crafted Manhattan (or a host of other delicious cocktails).