House Manhattan (Well Shaken!)

If you know me at all, you know my favorite cocktails are Manhattans and variations thereupon.

Generally, the Manhattan is the first drink I ask for from a bartender I don’t know.  If they can manage to get something tasty in a glass involving bitters, whiskey, and a decent portion of fresh sweet vermouth I feel like maybe I can trust their judgement.

I also take great pride in the beautiful, clear, cold Manhattans I make for customers.  I think they are as good a Manhattan as you will get, anywhere in the world.

I even bring my personal Yarai mixing glasses to work and chill them in our glass freezers, for a little extra silkiness in stirred drinks like Manhattans and Martinis.

I was working the service well the other night and an order came back, “2 House Manhattan, Well Shaken”.

I flagged down the server and asked, “Really? Are you sure they don’t mean well stirred?” She said, “No, they said they wanted them Well Shaken.”

OK then.  I loaded the Manhattans up in two of my tins and shook the living hell out of them.

Poured the frothy, cloudy, monstrosities into cocktail glasses, garnished them with a lemon twist, and sent them out.

About a half an hour later, another ticket came back, “2 House Manhattans, Well Shaken”.

Again loaded up two of my tins and shook the living hell out of them.

I smiled and mentioned to the server, “You know, every time I do this, I die a little inside.” She laughed, nervously, unclear if I was joking.

A half an hour later, another ticket came back, “2 House Manhattans, Well Shaken”.

“I’m just trying to keep you in shape,” the server remarked.  I said, “Just as long as it is two at a time, I do need to practice shaking two drinks at once.”

I know some bartenders would have gotten all upset about making shaken Manhattans, maybe refused to do it, or tried to talk the customers out of it.  Unfortunately, it was for a table in the dining room, so I had no chance to interact with them.  But even if it was at the bar, look, we sold three rounds of House Manhattans to paying, happy customers.  If they’d been at the bar and I tried to get all up in their faces about shaken Manhattans not being “proper”, they might have ordered one drink and walked out.

If you first earn the customers trust, you have a chance of changing their mind as the evening progresses.  In my experience, if you first force your ideas onto them, they will have one drink, pretend to like it, pay, and leave.

I know some bars and tenders have the luxury of choosing who they want to serve.  They have lines of eager cocktail enthusiasts and trendy scenesters waiting behind a velvet rope, hanging on their every pronouncement and genius cocktail.

Lucky for them, I guess.

For me, I work in a restaurant, where just about anyone can get a reservation, walk in, and order a drink.  We don’t check your cocktailian references before serving you.

5 thoughts on “House Manhattan (Well Shaken!)

  1. Awesome way to think about it. Two years ago I didn’t know Dolin from Martini & Rossi and was as apt to order a whisky and Coke as a Manhattan and I might have hardened against well-made cocktails if I’d felt it was a pushy and fussy world.

    By the way, about the stirring: I always felt the way you do about stirring Manhattans, probably because that’s the way Rachel Maddow (!) taught it in the YouTube video where I first learned to make them. And the Absinthe guys go so far as to instruct, in my other early reference Art of the Bar, that a Manhattan be “gently” stirred.

    But I was surprised to see this in How’s Your Drink, a fun historical cocktail survey by the Wall Street Journal’s former cocktail columnist Eric Felten instructing in the Manhattan recipe “shake — with a cocktail shaker please — with ice and strain into a Martini glass.” (The “cocktail shaker, please” bit is a reference to the previous paragraph about how the Sinclair Lewis character George Babbit refused to possess a cocktail shaker because he thought it hurt his image.)

  2. For everyone of you, there are 10 or 100 bartenders out there who die a little inside when I ask for a 2-to-1 Manhattan with bitters. I literally had one bartender make me pour that much vermouth into the shaker (um, yes shaker) because he thought it was an atrocity that he wanted as little a part in as possible. To his credit, he was still above the ones that ignore you and make it the 20:1 no bitters way regardless.

  3. Erik – another great post. For those of us (I’m a total newbie to this so I’m only loosely putting my self into a category of folks with far more knowledge on the subject) focussed on making and imbibing well made cocktails we often find ourselves finding fault with and critizing others for not knowing better about ordering certain drinks, wanting to know about how they are made, etc. I can recall not too long ago the height of sophistication was to order a Manhattan (my favorite cocktail) on the rocks, pleased to be ordering a cocktail (yeah, I’m drinking a Manhattan) and totally oblivious to the fact that the drink was likely a swill mixture heavy on the sweet vermouth, used a crap bourbon and had no bitters (bitters, what is a bitter I would have thought back then). It’s refreshing to find someone who’s in the business and who understands that regardless of his own personal (and fine tuned professional) opinions that yours is a business built on trust (and repeat business). If they like what you make them and trust in your judgement then they’ll be willing to trust you to lead them in the right direction with something new. Keep up the great work, I really enjoy reading what you post.

  4. I still prefer manhattans on the rocks. I know, I am a Philistine, but I just can’t handle lukewarm vermouth, it makes me gag, like I am drinking blood (not that I have actually drank blood). If I get it straight up, the drink usually becomes too warm about half way through, and then I just have to choke it down.

    With as simple as it is to make a Manhattan, I have probably got more bad ones than good ones in this town. Only once have I got one that was stirred, which was one of the best I have ever had, by the way. Finding a bartender that gives a damn in a small college town is pretty much hopeless.

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