Manhattans by the Pros

So I decided to see how professional mixologists conjure up a Manhattan. My first stop was at the Holiday Inn in Columbus IN on a wet and chilly night. The perfect place to begin a Heartland drinking odyssey. I was the only person at the bar, and I spotted only one person in the restaurant, a 40-something guy with glasses in a light blue shirt who was bellying up to the salad bar. Do European restaurants have salad bars now too? Yumm, three bean salad. And bad potato salad too.

It took a couple minutes for a wait person to notice I was patiently checking out the dark wood and brass rails and antique print reproductions and expecting Teddy Roosevelt to come charging into the room like a mad bull moose or Sandra Bernhardt to hobble in. My bartender was probably 6'4" or so, blond-brown hair, the Big Rock Candy Mountain kind of beard that the trimmer-impaired around here favor.

He asked if I wanted my Manhattan on the rocks or straight up. The latter of course. He didn't ask if I had a preference as to liquor, although there was a wood presentation box of 3 or 4 small batch bourbons above the bar. My drink came in a clear water tumbler. No cherry. Rather thin and very sweet. He must have been saving money on the bourbon with the vermouth. If the Manhattan had any bourbon in it at all. $4.50 plus tip. He had gone back to ask the blue shirt guy if he wanted a clean plate for another pass at the salad by that point. His successor, a blonde with black rectangular glasses, was a little more chatty and asked if I wanted another, but one was enough.

Last Saturday night I ate dinner with a friend in Indianapolis at a little restaurant north of downtown. I planned to order beef, since I rarely cook it at home, so I figured a Manhattan would make a good start. My wait guy, another tall fellow but with gooped up black hair and an attempt at a moustache (which dated him as a vintage c. 1985) looked a little surprised at my order, but he at least asked if I had any preference as to the bourbon. Nope, surprise me.

He brought it in a martini glass, which I thought was on the precious side, but better than a tumbler. This one was good. Nice quality liquor, not too sweet, it tasted like I imagined a Manhattan should taste, better than my attempts. It had a crema floating on top, as if a barista had pulled it. As I sipped at it I discovered the cherry lurking in the depths. My dinner partner got that. $4.25, and a large water with my meal. Doing this project hasn't turned me into a total alcoholic, yet.