Happy Hour History: The Manhattan




Editor’s note: This part of an ongoing series exploring the history of various cocktails the author likes to make for happy hour. Enjoy responsibly.

Few drinks have the classic cocktail cachet of the Manhattan. By most accounts, it was the first — of the modern era — and, while others have gone in and out of fashion, the Manhattan has always hung in there. As a result it has a somewhat dated and stodgy reputation; something your grandfather and other old men drink in musty rooms while sitting in leather chairs.

These old guys.

These old guys.

The Manhattan is a old man’s drink, sure, but it’s also a near perfect cocktail — simple to make with a well-balanced flavor, and enough room for variation without losing its essence. The Manhattan is classy, but rugged. A Martini drinker will slay you with wit; a Manhattan drinker will kick your ass.


One legend suggests The Manhattan was created at the Manhattan Club in New York City in 1874 at the behest of Jennie Jerome (aka Lady Randolph Churchill) to celebrate the election of Samuel J. Tilden as governor of New York. Jerome was a pretty fascinating character whose biography reads like a Henry James novel. She was a women with an impressive amount of agency for her time, and is worth exploring further. However, the story doesn’t hold up since Jerome was in England at the time about to give birth to her son Winston.

Yes, that Winston.

The more likely origin states that a bartender named Black first served up the drink in the 1860s at a bar near Houston Street in Manhattan. Early versions used rye whiskey since it was the easiest to come by in New York State. That’s still the standard; though, bourbon is a perfect cromulent substitution, especially if your a fan of smokier flavors. The sweet vermouth and bitters (Angostura, if you know what’s good for you) were part of the original preparation. The maraschino cherry garnish, however, was a few decades off since they weren’t available stateside until the early 1900s.


The Manhattan

  • 3 oz. whiskey
  • 1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 6 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients with ice, shake, and strain into a chilled glass, or server over ice in a tumbler. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Enjoy.