The Manhattan cocktail, a simple mid-19th century blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, finds its roots right here on our fair island, a refined yet potent concoction certain to alleviate all stresses of the city with each smooth sip. And whether you prefer bourbon or rye, Canadian Club or Tennessee hooch, the best Manhattans often mirror the cocktail bars they’re served in—classy but not too pretentious, dark enough to stir up some trouble and with just enough sweetness to keep repeat imbibers in good spirits from dusk ‘till dawn. Thirsty yet? These bars in NYC serve up the finest Manhattans from some of the city's best bartenders.
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Best Manhattans in NYC
There’s something timelessly elegant about hotel bars, and the Carlyle’s jazz club, with its art deco touches, 24-karat gold-leaf-adorned ceiling and insane list of top-shelf whiskeys, is a shining example of this age-old phenomenon. On nights featuring live music, Bemelmans regulars, Upper East Side locals and tourists alike nod along to the soothing sounds of Chris Gillespie’s jazz piano while sipping chilled Manhattans (served with a sidecar for table-side refreshing) and enjoying the whimsical original artwork from Ludwig Bemelman festooning the walls. A visit to Bemelmans might cost you a pretty penny, but the ambiance, reminiscent of a New York all but forgotten in the age of Spotify playlists and digital jukeboxes, is priceless.
Since opening its doors in 2007, Death & Company has firmly established itself as an East Village institution. The cavernous, beautifully designed space—all dark wood and cool marble—is the epitome of downtown cool, and the stellar cocktail program certainly lives up to the bar’s esteemed reputation. While the extensive beverage menu rotates every few months, the bartender’s choice Manhattan is always in season. The perfectly melded, expertly concocted beverage is served up in a sleek champagne coupe and, if you’re lucky, your bartender might just slip you a sidecar, packaged in a small glass carafe and nestled snugly in a separate glass filled with spherical ice. Don’t be shy about accepting this little bonus—at these prices, complimentary offerings are always well received.
Fueled by a rash of inspired speakeasy-style openings throughout the early 2000s, New York City’s celebrated cocktail culture has become a staple of the island’s downtown scene, and Employees Only remains a standout amongst these trendy throwbacks. The West Village craft cocktail institution is a real bartender’s bar, known for exquisitely prepared late night eats and even more exceptional cocktails. EO’s Manhattan opens with a healthy dose of savory, spicy Rittenhouse Rye, tempered by Italian sweet vermouth and Grand Marnier then finished with a few crucial dashes of traditional Angostura Bitters and stirred to perfection with the utmost professionalism. There’s only a few places in this world $16 cocktails are worth the price, and Employees Only firmly tops that list.
The seasoned mixologists manning the late Sasha Petraske’s sunken speakeasy have been peddling top-notch classic cocktails and boundary-pushing original creations with the utmost dedication for over a decade now, and they’ve yet to lose the pep in their collective step. Ask for a Manhattan at this relaxed, relatively spacious (i.e. bigger than a broom closet) West Village speakeasy and prepare for a jazz-like experience: The rich, expertly blended flavors seep into your palate like the slow, sultry notes spiraling out of Little Branch’s famous corner piano. Care for something a little different? Just ask one of the masterminds behind the bar to add a bit of creative flare to the traditional recipe, and you’ll soon understand why Petraske’s legacy is alive and well in the streets of his beloved city.
Down at the very end of Atlantic Avenue in a difficult-to-determine Brooklyn neighborhood—Cobble Hill? Brooklyn Heights? The jury’s still out—adventurous drinkers will stumble upon the Long Island Bar, a charming cocktail den lovingly renovated to its former 1950’s-era, neon-illuminated glory by industry vets Joel Tompkins and Toby Cecchini in 2013. The cozy, narrow bar’s stunning woodwork and tasteful art deco touches create the ideal environment for enjoying classic cocktails mixed to perfection. While the traditional Manhattan is always a winner at The Long Island Bar, we recommend trying a Boulevardier (rye whiskey, tart Campari, sweet vermouth) on for size. While it was almost lost to history, this potent Manhattan-Negroni hybrid, much like the Long Island bar itself, has been resurrected by New York City’s unquenchable thirst for old school authenticity—and oh, are we ever thankful.
A famed Petraske venture, Middle Branch has served as a welcome respite for sophisticated Murray Hill drinkers since opening in 2012. In true craft cocktail style, suspendered bartenders sporting fresh high-and-tight haircuts shake, stir and pour their delicious creations over hand-chiseled ice against a backdrop of warmly lit exposed brick and well dressed thirtysomethings. A Manhattan is the logical choice here—after all, Middle Branch is a speakeasy, despite sticking out like an elegant sore thumb at the center of the city’s rowdy frat row—and the drink is, of course, a heavenly trip down booze lane. For a change of pace, ask your trustworthy barkeep for a Preakness, a Manhattan variation that combines zesty rye, syrupy sweet benedectine, vermouth and Angostura bitters, served up with a dash of bitter lemon oil and garnished with a brandied cherry.
Though still considered a speakeasy, legendary publican Jim Meehan’s Please Don’t Tell is no longer much of a secret—at least not since tiny cocktail den hidden inside Crif Dogs out a best-selling recipe book and even lent its name to a new mixology iPhone app. Thankfully, though, PDT (as it’s affectionately called) hasn’t let all the fanfare go its proverbial head. Patrons entering through the low-ceilinged bar’s stealthy phone booth trapdoor are still met with a fun, downtown atmosphere, a charming, approachable staff and a list of craft cocktails to rival any other on the planet. A classic Manhattan is always a strong call at any modern speakeasy, but at PDT, where the barkeeps are supremely well versed in the art of cocktail creation, a bartender’s choice Manhattan is usually the more exciting option—much like the overloaded hot dogs streaming in from next door, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, but it’s guaranteed to be delicious.
Brave customers must head down a dark flight of stairs and through an eerily unmarked front door before being deposited into this distinguished basement speakeasy in Chelsea. Like a turn-of-the-century private library, the aesthetic revolves around Edison bulbs, pressed tin, plush sofas and heavy velvet curtains. Take a seat in one of the über-romantic partitioned-off booths (reservations are recommended) and, when you’re ready, ring your service bell to summon your cocktail server. The friendly mixologists hard at work behind the well-stocked bar are more than happy to stir you up flawless, incredibly balanced classic Manhattan.
Slowly Shirley is a sultry hideaway beneath West Village bar, the Happiest Hour. Shirley takes her late-1940s aesthetic mighty seriously, with glossy oxblood banquettes and barbacks kitted out in newsboy caps and suspenders like dancers in a Broadway musical. The slinky speakeasy has ten different Manhattans on its menu–the rye F.A.F. Manhattan ($30)—the letters stand for Fancy as Fuck—nearly earns its price tag with a finish as silky as satin sheets.