The History of the Manhattan Cocktail

by Thousand Oaks Barrel Co.

The history of the Manhattan cocktail goes back to 19th century Manhattan and here's the story of the Manhattan, who invented it, and a classic cocktail recipe.

The history of the Manhattan cocktail can certainly be traced back to New York's Manhattan in the late 19th century, but the exact details are not known for sure.

Was the Manhattan Invented at The Manhattan Club?

The Manhattan Club in New York, which is still going strong as a 4-star hotel, claims that the Manhattan cocktail was invented there. It was first created, they say, in 1874 for a banquet being held there by Jennie Jerome to honor the politician, Samuel J. Tilden.

Tilden was Governor of New York and went on to run as the Democratic candidate in the 1876 presidential election. He became the first candidate to win the popular vote but lose the election. That 1876 election had all the drama, and more, of recent US elections.

1874 was also the year that Jennie Jerome, who was born in Brooklyn, married Lord Randolph Churchill of Great Britain, and became Lady Randolph Churchill. According to one biography, Jerome was already pregnant with their first child at the time of their marriage. That child was named Winston, and went on to become the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who led the country through World War II.

However, there's one problem with this story. On the date the banquet was held, Lady Churchill was in either England or France, but certainly not in New York.

When Was the Manhattan Cocktail Invented?

The Manhattan was definitely around by the early 1880s as it was first mentioned by name in a New York newspaper in 1882. In 1884 two versions of the cocktail recipe were included in a book by O.H.Byron called The Modern Bartender's Guide. From then on, the Manhattan was a regular in books of cocktail recipes.

Who Invented the Manhattan Cocktail?

Another account explaining the history of the Manhattan cocktail comes from a bartender, William F. Mulhall. Mulhall worked at the Hoffman House, a famous hotel that used to stand on Broadway and 25th Street. He began working there in the early 1880s and around that time he said that the Manhattan was invented in the 1860s by a bartender named Black, who worked at a nearby bar on Broadway.

The History of the Manhattan Cocktail

To sum up, all we really know about the history of the Manhattan cocktail is that it probably was created somewhere in Manhattan around the 1860s-1870s.

Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

The standard Manhattan cocktail recipe includes just three ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. In the late 19th century the whiskey of choice was rye, and the recipe recommended today by the International Bartenders Association still specifies rye:



5 cl Rye whiskey

2 cl Sweet red vermouth

Dash Angostura bitters


Stir over ice, strain into a chilled glass, garnish with a cherry or lemon slice, and serve in a cocktail glass or over ice in a lowball glass.

Even though there are only three ingredients, this still allows for some variations on the classic recipe. If you like bourbon, use bourbon. During Prohibition, Canadian whisky became the spirit used as it was easier to get hold of. You can also try different kinds of vermouth or bitters. You could try using both sweet vermouth and dry vermouth in the same drink, instead of the standard sweet vermouth.

You can also use brandy to turn it into a Brandy Manhattan, or use moonshine to make a Blonde Manhattan. If you use Scotch whisky instead of American rye, then you've made a Rob Roy. However you make it, though, you now at least know the history of the Manhattan cocktail.

by Mike Gerrard