In the cocktail world, the Manhattan is something of a legend — a whiskey-based kick in the gut that was also one of the first cocktails to rely on vermouth as a modifier. It's also a drink that pre-dates the martini by some time.
Every bar in the country with a specialty cocktail list seems to have their own versions of this classic, with different whiskeys, different cherries and different bitters making for several vastly different drinks. But in our fair city, bartenders aren't afraid to tinker further with proportions, ingredients and aging of this timeless drink, much like a jazz artist riffing on a few notes. Here's a few spins on the Manhattan on seasonal bar menus now:
Uptown Manhattan at Grandpa Johnson's
A Manhattan with tequila? Sure, when you're in L.A. and you add a bittersweet hint of Mandarine Napoleon orange liqueur, the heat of chili-chocolate liqueur Ancho Reyes, and the surprising addition of grapefruit bitters. "This was a Latin version of the Manhattan using the lightly wooded [Tequila] Ocho Anejo," explains Alex Straus, the Bon Vivants' Sergeant at Arms, currently bartending at Grandpa Johnson's. The tequila "brings a solid backbone to the sweet and spice brought on from the Mandarine Napoleon and the Ancho Reyes. The grapefruit brings out a lot of the savory notes of the Ancho and complements the tequila equally." 1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood.
The San Francisco at Now Boarding
Mixologist and co-owner Wil Figueroa, who used to be behind the stick at the Roger Room, gives his rye-based Manhattan a twist with a hefty sweet vermouth and the unorthodox addiction of the herbal liqueur Benedictine. Calhoun notes that "rye's astringent and dry characteristics pair nicely with the Carpano and Benedictiine." (Look out for our more in-depth piece about Now Boarding's cocktail program soon.) 7746 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; nowboardingla.com
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The Saratoga at Hutchinson Cocktails & Grill
“I think The Saratoga is a great version of a Manhattan because it tastes similar, but with a really good modern twist," says bartender Sergio Gonzalez of his drink. "We use Reagan's orange bitters instead of Angostura and Byrrh [a red wine-based aperitif made with quinine] instead of vermouth. It's similar, but modern, and has a great balance of sweetness, citrus, herbal, and a little oak and vanilla.” The sweetness of bourbon creates a sturdy foundation for all the other new flavors. 826 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood, hutchinsonla.com
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book Gin: A Global History. Her book The 12 Bottle Bar, co-written with David Solmonson, was released July 29. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.