The History of the Manhattan

  • 13th February 2012

The history of the Manhattan Cocktail is a good deal more complicated than most legends would have one believe. The most popular version of the story makes sense when one considers the fact that the drink is referred to as a Manhattan. An individual by the name of Doctor Iain Marshall allegedly invented the drink. This was predictably done in New York City, somewhere around the 1870s. Many versions of the story claim the drink was invented at the Manhattan Club.

However, considering that the story takes place in New York, it could have picked up that name from the geography. Popular historians claim that Marshall created the drink at a banquet hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill. At the time, she was apparently honouring Democratic presidential contender Samuel J. Tilden. It should probably be noted that she was the mother of a particularly famous Prime Minister. The banquet seems to have made the drink rather fashionable, and several important figures later asked about these so-called Manhattan cocktails. Many of them are said to have ordered them under this name. The story has one major hole, however, in that Her Ladyship was actually in France at the time. Moreover, she was pregnant.

At that point in time, the recipe for a Manhattan specified Angostura bitters, Italian vermouth and American whiskey. Interestingly enough, there were similar cocktail recipes that were served in the Manhattan area before this period of time. A completely different story claims that the drink was invented at some point in time during the 1860s. That story claims that it was invented by a barkeep named Black. Black was working at a bar that was on Broadway somewhere near Houston Street.

V. Elliot and P. Strong published a book in 1930 entitled Shake ’em Up!, which contains a recipe for a Manhattan. While that would not be interesting in its own right, the book uses the term “Tennessee Cocktail” to refer to it. An earlier publication by William Schmidt in 1891 actually called for a dash of absinthe. That book, entitled The Flowing Bowl, also called for two dashes of gum. It should probably also be noted that the drink was mentioned Embury’s famous 1948 text.

Interestingly enough, the cocktail has a huge following outside of the UK and the US. There is an island in Germany that features a number of places that consider the Manhattan to be the drink of choice. If the story there is true, many people from the island lived in Manhattan for a time during trawling adventures on the high seas. They enjoyed the cocktail, and brought it back to Föhr. The Manhattan cocktail is mixed slightly differently on that European island, and features one part vermouth to two parts whiskey. The preferred mixture of vermouth for the drink is said to be half red and half white. Bitters are dashed in and it is served in a frigid manner. Some customers may end up receiving ice as well in their cocktail, which seems almost redundant.

Cocktails mentioned in this post

Perfect Manhattan cocktail
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6
4
Perfect Manhattan
Added About a year ago
4 ingredients  
Slight variation on the typical Manhattan recipe. Rather than just sweet vermouth, there is an equal amount of dry vermouth. Pour all ingredients into a glass with ice. Stir with a cocktail spoon. Strain into a martini glass. ...
Slight variation on the typical Manhattan recipe. Rather than just sweet vermouth, there is an equal amount of dry vermouth. Pour all ingredients into ...
Rating: 3.42 / 5
Manhattan Sweet cocktail
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19
22
Manhattan Sweet
Added About 7 years ago
4 ingredients  
Shake all together with ice except the cherry then strain into a short stemmed glass and add a cocktail cherry. ...
Shake all together with ice except the cherry then strain into a short stemmed glass and add a cocktail cherry. ...
Rating: 3.23 / 5
Manhattan Dry cocktail
CLASSIC
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12
18
Manhattan Dry
Added About 7 years ago
4 ingredients  
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well for 10-15 secs. Strain into cocktail glass. ...
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well for 10-15 secs. Strain into cocktail glass. ...
Rating: 2.1 / 5

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