I’ll Take Manhattan

(the Bronx, and Staten Island too)

“All those old drinks are coming back now,” said my mother the last time we were together, and I ordered a Manhattan. “Ever since Sex in the City.”

She’s probably right, but I’ve been drinking “those old drinks” since I was, well, old enough to drink. Even in college, I’d forsake the cash for three beers and buy a single martini instead (dirty, with Bombay Sapphire, please), because I’d consume less alcohol, slower, and look more attractive in pictures and in general. (A tilting woman swigging a High Life looks drunk; a tilting woman holding a martini glass looks gracefully besotted.)

But it took me a long time, a lot of books, and dating a lot of culinary students to know anything about proper drinking. I’ve condensed this knowledge for you, here, in four sections: barware, cocktails, wine, and scotch.

Barware 101: A Primer

The second thing I did when I moved into my husband’s house was buy appropriate drinkware. (The first was to buy sheets that had a higher thread count than our dog’s IQs.) For once, I didn’t do this because I was snobby – I did this because I was tired of drinking my scotch out of an oversized coffee mug with “CHICAGO – THE WINDY CITY!” emblazoned across the side.

If you’re really interested in being able to tell a sherry glass from a brandy snifter, Wikipedia has a pretty good section explaining the different types of drinkware.

Here’s what’s in our bar currently :

  • 1 William Sonoma plain martini shaker
  • 2 Crate and Barrel Clio martini glasses (we prefer these because they’re less likely to cause an international incident)
  • 2 Crate and Barrel rocks glasses (Jack likes these because his thumb fits in the impressions on the side, making him look less alcoholic-y while he waves his scotch around and quotes socialist authors)
  • 2 Pottery Barn stemless wine glasses (as I got tired of drunk people setting my traditional wine glasses down too hard and breaking the stem)
  • 2 Tiffany & Co. classic champagne flutes (my wedding anniversary present to myself)
  • 2 Crate and Barrel Monika brandy glasses (because you can’t really substitute for brandy)
  • 1 Pottery Barn Great Wine Decanter (for when we’re being fancy)
  • 2 monogrammed William Sonoma wine stoppers (because the day you see me drink a bottle of wine with one of those huge bejeweled butterfly/dolphin/whatthefuckever things is the day Lily Beth calls it quits, ya’ll)
  • 6 monogrammed Pottery Barn hotel cocktail napkins
  • 1 wing cork screw (we’ve had one of those rabbit things for years, and neither one of us can operate it without injuring ourselves)
  • 1 foil cutter (for when we don’t want to rip the foil on the wine bottle off with our teeth)

And that is the entire contents of our bar, really, which is a very basic setup for two people who entertain like it is going out of style. We stow away another half-dozen cheap wine glasses for when we have company, and we have a couple of those black stackable metal wine racks that Pier One doesn’t seem to make anymore.

We do not own cute colored cordial glasses. We do not own hand-painted wine glasses with ferns or grapes or kittens on them. We do not make margaritas, and we do not own shot glasses. (A friend once pawned a set of those moronic rolling shot glasses off on us and I’ve taken to filling them with water and a single daisy, and stationing them around the house.)

Let’s Have a Cocktail


Often called a “man’s cocktail – strong, simple, and urbane.” At 160 years old, it’s a tried-and-true classic. A Manhattan can range from very sweet to very dry, depending on how you make it. The basic instructions follow:

  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 ½ oz bourbon whiskey
  • 1 dash bitters (“what the hell are bitters?”)
  • 1 maraschino cherry
Start with a mixing glass containing a couple of ice cubes. Pour in the vermouth, bourbon whiskey, and bitters and stir gently. (Why do you stir gently? This keeps the drink from looking cloudy and the spirits from becoming bruised.) Drop the cherry into a chilled cocktail glass, and strain what you’ve just mixed into the cocktail glass. You can rub an orange peel over the rim of the glass, but for heaven’s sake, don’t put it in. Better, forget I said that – let’s not get fancy here. Nix the orange.
DrinksMixer.com suggests substituting a lime twist in place of the cherry, then lighting a match and dropping it in, but I don’t like my drinks to come with an act, so let’s nix le feu too. Unless you’re drinking cocktails at the circus – and then, by all means, light it up.
Dirty Martini
I don’t drink vodka martinis, nor do I drink any martini with “chocolate,” “pomegranate,” or “apple” in the name. If I wanted it to taste like fruit, I’d spring for a $4.59 bottle of Arbor Mist and drink it in shame, at home, alone. This is where you say, “My, what a terrible snob you are, Lily Beth,” and I say, “You are correct.”
But really, I watch the kind of women that drink those drinks – they are the same women who wear gold lamé to the opera, and I like to disassociate myself from them whenever I get the chance.
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 tbsp dry vermouth
  • 2 tbsp olive juice
  • 2 olives
Toss an ice cube and a smidge of water in a martini glass, and put it in the freezer. Then go fill your martini shaker with the gin, vermouth, and olive juice. Cover, and give a good shake three or so times. Strain the contents of your mixer into the (cold) martini glass, shove two olives on a spear, and voila: the original martini, with no embarrassment of having to say “appletini” in public.
“But what about the cosmopolitan?” you ask. I really have no beef with the cosmo. I used to drink cranberry juice like a fish anyway, but cranberry juice and vodka combined have never treated me well – you know you’re getting old when you have to start taking it easy on the citric acid.
White Russian
Not just the favored drink of unemployed, bathrobe-wearing, pot-smoking bowlers everywhere – it’s also a sweet but respectable cocktail that comes in at approximately a zillion calories a glass. I find its siren song of silky cream impossible to ignore.
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz coffee liqueur (usually Kahlua)
  • light cream
Pour vodka and coffee liqueur over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass. Fill the rest of the glass with light cream. If you’re making it for other people, let them stir the contents together themselves. If you’re making it for you, stir them together and sigh contentedly.
Hot Toddy
This is the best “it’s cold and I’m a weenie”/”excuse for drinking when ill” drink ever made.
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ¾ glass tea
  • 2 shots brandy
  • 1 slice lemon
Brew tea and fill a tall glass 3/4 full. Mix in honey. Mix in brandy. Add lemon slice. Cup in your hands and breathe in the steam while pretending it’s therapeutic.
Mint Julep
The official drink of the South. I’ll take it over a sickly-sweet mojito any day.
  • 4 fresh mint sprigs
  • 2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar or simple syrup
  • 2 tsp water
Muddle (meaning crush up) mint leaves, powdered sugar, and water in a highball or a collins glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add bourbon. Top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw and front-porch rocking chair.
Bring the mimosa back from it’s post-wedding brunch death! Invented in 1925 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, it’s the perfect excuse to drink before noon, and it’s incredibly easy.
  • Champagne or another sparkling wine
  • Chilled orange juice (low pulp or pulp free)
Fill a champagne flute or a traditional water glass with 1/3 champagne, and top with cold orange juice.
Old Fashioned
  • 2 oz bourbon whiskey
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 1 splash water
  • 1 tsp sugar
Here’s the thing with the Old Fashioned – most bartenders throw in a cherry and an orange wedge, and then top the thing off with a too-long spritz from the soda gun. Neither the cherry nor the orange are original, and the extra soda will dilute the hell out of the damned thing. Making an old fashioned the correct way is simple:
Mix the sugar, water, and bitters in a highball glass. Pour in bourbon, fill with ice cubes, and stir.
Years ago, I was a huge wine drinker. I took the courses in college, I read books, I went to vineyards, and spent most of the time enthusiastically smashed. I had a group of girlfriends that met for a weekly date at a bring-your-own-wine place, and each week we’d excitedly show our offerings and talk about them amongst the fragments of feminist theory and geo-politics discussion. In recent years, I’ve had to give it up due to migraine headaches that are triggered by many things, including the tannins in red wine. Now I stick mostly to scotch instead.
We buy wine by the case twice a year or so, from whenever I get over-enthusiastic at a local winery. This is not a bad idea, as a bottle of wine is always a quick and easy hostess gift, and we all know my policy on never attending a party empty-handed. Most of our regional wineries will mix-and-match their cases, which means we always have on hand something that we don’t drink, but that other people drink (like chardonnay, or raspberry wine).
If I’m out-and-about, and looking for a bottle of wine to bring to a party, I almost always choose Coppola’s Diamond label because the malbec, shiraz, and merlot are delicious, classic-looking, and affordable.
I also like Cardinal Zin, because it’s an easy red zinfandel and the label is gorgeous and fun.
Veuve Clicquot is the only champagne we drink, mostly because we dislike champagne in general. On the incredibly rare occasion that we buy or order champagne for ourselves, we suck it up and spend the money. If we are entertaining someone important (like the Prime Minister of Israel, or Jack’s family), we serve their demi-sec with dessert. But I would also like to point out that my all-time favorite girlfriend once came to a birthday party of mine with a $2.99 bottle of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante in a plastic bag and announced excitedly, “I do not care what you think! I love this champagne and they carry it at the 7/11!” And what followed one of the most fun times we’ve ever had.
“Mmm, scotch. Scotchy-scotchy scotch.”
Here’s the thing about scotch – if you drink excessively cheap scotch, you look like you’re a wino. I’m sorry, there are just no two ways about it. Cheap beer and cheap wine, I can forgive; cheap scotch I can not.
I only drink three kinds of scotch. This is non-negotiable. They are as follows:
  • Oban (14 year) – a West Highland single malt that is smoky and dry. Pricing runs anywhere from $50 to $70, depending on where you buy it.
  • Lagavulin (16 year) – Islay single malt that tastes like a campfire. A delicious, delicious campfire. Should run from $80-$90 a bottle.
  • Macallan Whiskey Galore (10 year) – Sounds trashy, and is shockingly unique and wonderful. It’s the bottle I always keep on hand in the house. $50-$60 a bottle.
2 Responses to “I’ll Take Manhattan”
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  1. […] 1, 2010 · Leave a Comment A lot of time has passed in the wine world since I wrote “I’ll Take Manhattan,” in which I devote a measly two paragraphs to wine. Such a broad category deserves an […]

  2. […] 10, 2010 · Leave a Comment A lot of time has passed in the wine world since I wrote “I’ll Take Manhattan,” in which I devote a measly two paragraphs to wine. Such a broad category deserves an […]

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