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Cocktails and the City: I’ll take Manhattan

Thea Euryphaessa wants hers ice-cold, straight-up and perfect, if you please

Written by . Published on September 17th 2008.

Cocktails and the City: I’ll take Manhattan

Make no bones about it, the Manhattan is a substantial drink and like its namesake, threatens to overwhelm you when first encountered. It may have been romanticised as the other cocktail of choice for Carrie et al in Sex and the City, but be warned, this couldn’t be any further along the taste spectrum from the vodka-based Cosmopolitan if it tried.

A heady mix of whiskey, vermouth, bitters and ice, this is a drink in which – shock – you can really taste the alcohol. All the better for it I say. Perhaps it’s a sign of a maturing palate, but I prefer the alcohol to hold its own and not languish under a blanket of cloying ingredients. So if you’re thinking glorified alcopops, think again. The raw taste of the whiskey should be subtly tempered and its natural flavour enhanced by the addition of vermouth (sweet vermouth for a Sweet Manhattan, dry vermouth for a Dry and half/half for a Perfect) and a dash of bitters.

Like many other cocktails, its origins are dubious. One popular story says it was created in the Manhattan Club, New York City in 1874 for Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston’s mother). Such was its success it came to be referred to as the Manhattan and is now firmly established as one of the classics.

So where in Manchester can one enjoy a well-made Manhattan? I sampled across five venues: The River Bar at the Lowry Hotel, Room, Ithaca, Opus One at the Radisson and The Modern at Urbis.

In Room, the enthusiastic and affable bartender asked all the right questions (would I like it sweet, dry or perfect) but poured away the vermouth confusing it with a Martini. I had to ask for it to be added back in, as I’d requested it perfect. They also forgot the bitters. (£6.00)

Over in Ithaca things fared much better, although there was no cherry garnish and the glass it was served in, although swish and generous, was not Martini style. The flavour was all there though, thanks to the use of correct, good quality ingredients and that’s what ultimately matters. (£7.00)

At the River Bar, it was the glass issue again. This time it was served in a Bombay Sapphire decorated cocktail glass. This is a classic drink and they had plenty of plain chilled Martini glasses available. The balance and kick of this drink also fell short of expectations due to the addition of Martini rather than vermouth. A tad unfortunate, as this establishment usually gets its cocktails right. (£8.50)

Over in Opus One, I wasn’t sure what I ended up with. I wasn’t asked how I preferred my drink and although sat at the bar, didn’t see what went into it as my barkeep asked someone else to prepare it. When it arrived the presentation was acceptable, but on tasting I found it flaccid and weak. I’ve since heard the house standard limits the number of shots that can be added to a cocktail, therefore restricting the bartenders whether they know their stuff or not. And at £8.50 with a standard 10% service charge applied, this was the most expensive of the lot.

The Modern's winning classic

Finally, there was The Modern at Urbis: an establishment frequented by the spirits of cocktails past. Woodfords Reserve, Noilly Prat and bitters came wrapped in an elegant Martini glass and adorned with a cherry. The presentation and service was a lesson in understated style. But don’t let the skimpy little outfit fool you: of all the Manhattans sampled this was by far the most potent. I later found out they have a first edition of David. A Embury’s classic book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks locked away in a safe. That’ll explain the generous alcoholic portions then. When it comes to the classics, these people clearly mean business. And if you’re afraid to be seen sipping from a Martini glass, order it on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. Standing head and shoulders above the rest of the city, The Modern’s Manhattan is raising the bar. (£8.00)

The breakdown: Venue: The Modern Bar & Restaurant, Floors 5 & 6, Urbis, M4 3BG. T: 0161 605 8282
Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan: (Flavour 5/5, Presentation 5/5, Flair 5/5, Ambience 4.5/5)
Total 19.5/20

Venue: Ithaca, 36 John Dalton Street, M6 2LE. T: 0870 740 4000
Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan: (Flavour 4.5/5, Presentation 4/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 3.5/5)
Total 16/20

Venue: Room Restaurant, 81 King Street, M2 4ST. T: 0161 839 2005
Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan: (Flavour 3/5, Presentation 3.5/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 4/5)
Total 14.5/20

Venue: The River Bar, The Lowry Hotel, 50 Dearmans Place, M3 5LH. T: 0161 827 4000
Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan: (Flavour 2.5/5, Presentation 2/5, Flair 3/5, Ambience 4.5/5)
Total 12/20

Venue: Opus One, Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Peter Street, M2 5GP. T: 0161 835 9929
Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan: (Flavour 1.5/5, Presentation 3/5, Flair 1.5/5, Ambience 4/5)
Total 10

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DrakeSeptember 17th 2008.

Ssssh, THe Modern's drinks are meant to be a secret. THe Vieux Carre (sp?--the proper, pre-war version of the Old Fashioned) they serve is just sublime.

Graham SwiftSeptember 17th 2008.

I agree the Modern does wonderful cocktails but there are other ingredients the writer is leaving out which are important. One ingredient to a classic Manhattan which omitted here is atmosphere. The Manhattan might be better in the Modern but the feel of a please right to drink a Manhattan is better in Opus One. Because of the atmosphere I'd rather drink there.

AvoSeptember 17th 2008.

I want this when he gets back..."We made a Rotorua Rumbullion. Infused vx, El Dorado 12, Manuka 42 below, lime, pineapple and muscvado and manuka honey cream (500ml Manuka Honey, 500ml cream, 200g Muscovado) in fire branded coconuts"

mark mSeptember 17th 2008.

check him out on http://www.classbar.com/cwcblog.html

mark mSeptember 17th 2008.

still say socio is the best. Big Tom is superb

AvoSeptember 17th 2008.

Is Tom still out in New Zealand at the 42 Below Comp? How did he get on?

Philip CrowleySeptember 17th 2008.

Thea can I have your job? You can keep your surname though as it's unprononceable.

Elaine M BrignallSeptember 17th 2008.

I organised a 'women's evening' to see the film Sex and the City and we started off having Manhattan cocktails before dinner at Harvey Nics ......supurb and very strong !!!!

Miss MacSeptember 17th 2008.

Go knock yer socks off at THE best cocktail bar in the city, Socio Rehab.Big Tom is back! Check out the Manattan!Legend.

Eliza ASeptember 17th 2008.

Graham, but you can still enjoy a perfect Manhattan on your own quietly. A girl's got to find her simple pleasures as they come. And a book, a Manhattan and a good bar are all we need sometimes.

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