The History of The Manhattan

Published On January 14, 2013 | By Brian Samuels | Cocktails, History of Mixology, Rye Whiskey, Whiskey

Once in a while, when I feel like traveling back in time, I head to a bar in downtown Boston.  The upscale furniture, the servers dressed in black and the shelves stocked with high-end scotch all bring you into a different era.  My go-to drink here is a Manhattan, and after one, I’m set. The second, however, puts all of your worries to rest.

What the heck is a Manhattan?

Traditionally, a Manhattan is made with Rye whiskey (which, by law, is produced from a mash that consists of at least 51 percent rye), sweet vermouth and bitters.  Variations include switching up the rye whiskey with bourbon or Canadian whiskey.  The combination is stirred over ice and then poured into a martini glass.  The maraschino cherry that is added at the end didn’t appear on the scene until the 1900s.

What’s the story behind the Manhattan?

Most assume that the drink was named after the most popular of New York’s five boroughs.  Well, like most cocktails, the origin of the Manhattan is up for debate.  The most popular story is that, in 1874, the drink was created by Dr. Iain Marshall for a party hosted at The Manhattan Club (a club consisting of very rich, politically connected Democrats) by Jennie Jerome (aka Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of the future Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill) for presidential hopeful Samuel J. Tilden.

Another story is that, ten years prior, it was mixed at a bar on Broadway near Houston Street in Lower Manhattan.

Some may have also seen this drink called the Tennessee Cocktail, which is what appeared in the 1930s cocktail book, Shake ‘em Up! by V. Elliot and P. Strong.  Doesn’t this look familiar: “Two parts of whiskey, one part of Italian Vermouth and a dash of bitters poured over ice and stirred vigorously.”  Sounds delicious to me!

Brian Samuels is Managing Editor at The Boys Club and blogger at A Thought For Food.

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About The Author

Brian Samuels
is the man that keeps this club running. He is a co-founder and Editor in Chief of The Boys Club and blogger at A Thought for Food. Brian on twitter @myfoodthoughts.

10 Responses to The History of The Manhattan

  1. me says:

    a perfect cocktail if there ever was one.

  2. I love these posts! I will admit to never having tried a Manhattan, but it’s still fun to learn the story behind it.

  3. This is a nice post. Have there been other “History of..” posts? I’ll have to look for them. The Manhattan is one of those drinks that gets tinkered with a lot. Serious Eats wrote about a White Manhattan once that was interesting.

  4. Shaina says:

    Also good for warming in cold winter months. I love getting a rundown on the history behind classic cocktails.

  5. MikeVFMK says:

    classic, stylish cocktail fit for winter. Love the moodiness, Brian. I could use one now after the kind of day I had.

  6. Melissa says:

    I live in Boston and Manhattans are my cocktail of choice. Curious which bar you’re talking about in your post?

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