It’s taken me the best part of a decade, but you know what? I think I’ve finally found The One.
I’m talking about my go-to cocktail, of course – the drink that means I don’t even need to open a menu, conferring on me an air of effortless, Draperish sophistication. Or something like that.
After brief flirtations with some other contenders (GQ had it right when it pronounced that ‘an Old Fashioned takes too long and a Martini is a bit obvious’), I’ve plighted my troth to the Manhattan. It’s a study in timeless elegance – the polar opposite of those chintzy teacup-full-of-gin concoctions that make me want to bore a hole in my own skull.
On paper, mixing a Manhattan looks simple enough – it’s just whisky, sweet vermouth and bitters, with a cherry or orange peel to finish. How tricky can that be? Extremely, as it happens. A well-made example is, to borrow a phrase from Gregg ‘MasterChef’ Wallace, a beautiful thing. But trying to choke down a grotty one is like drinking cough mixture, only nowhere near as fun.
So where, I hear you ask, are London’s most impeccably made Manhattans to be found? Well, for what it’s worth, these are my recommendations.
Citizen M, 20 Lavington Street, SE1 ONZ
Yes, it’s a chain hotel. A chain hotel with a bar that bears a dispiriting resemblance to Jess’s apartment in New Girl. But Citizen M does an absolutely blinding Manhattan, made with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. This will doubtless distress those who believe that Manhattans should only ever be made with rye. Never mind, eh? More for us.
The Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ
London’s top mixologist, bow-tie-sporting supremo Tony Conigliaro, holds the reins here. His super-skilled bar staff will never, ever over-stir your Manhattan, and they’ll even let you try a little of your chosen whisky beforehand so you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
69 Colebrooke Row, N1 8AA
Colebrooke Row is a special place for me. For it was here, as a callow newcomer to the capital, that I drank my first Manhattan. This was no ordinary one, either – it had been aged in a wooden barrel for a year, and the smoky, spicy result blew my head off (in a good way). Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, but I bet they’d still make it for you if you asked nicely.
Bar Nightjar, 129 City Road, EC1V 1JB
The Bijou, which comes in a sherry glass, isn’t strictly a Manhattan – the whisky and bitters are blended with Grand Marnier and juniper. But it is delicious. For afters, I’d suggest a Sweet Dreams, a cheeky little Tiki number that comes with a scoop of ice cream on top.
Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB
There’s no monkeying about with liquid nitrogen and spherification upstairs at Rules (London’s oldest restaurant, dontcha know). American bartender Brian ‘Silver Fox’ Silva, a gent of the old school, won’t stand for any of that. But if you like your Manhattans served with a side order of buttoned leather and dark wood, this is the place to come.