A very simple cocktail actually. One part sweet vermouth, a dash of Angostura bitters, two parts rye whiskey, stir over ice and strain into a martini glass with a maraschino cherry.
There are variations. You can make a Manhattan with bourbon. I don't like bourbon Manhattans. Too sweet for me. Much to my surprise I do like the Cuban Manhattan. Yes, that uses rum rather than rye. Dark rum. Although I like mine with golden rum. And I like the Tijuana Manhattan. You guessed it. Tequila rather than rye. I used to tend bar. So I like to try these things at least once. There's also a dry Manhattan. Use dry vermouth rather than sweet vermouth. No, don't like those. The rye completely overpowers the dry vermouth. Might as well have a whiskey and water.
The Manhattan is one of my winter cocktails of choice. It says "winter" to me like gin and tonic says "summer". It's dark. It's heavy. Rich and luscious. It's the complete opposite of light and refreshing. Flavors sometimes bring back memories just as smells and sounds do.
When I was a kid the only chain restaurants I can remember are Howard Johnson's and Friendly's. Of course we had McDonald's and I can remember buying bags of 20 hamburgers for $4. I think I'd heard of Arby's too. Now and then we'd go to Howard Johnson's or Friendly's.
But for special occasions, birthdays and anniversaries, it was always a fancy steakhouse or seafood restaurant. Anthony's. Jimmy's. My most favorite restaurant, Lockeober. The Coach Grill. Ken's. Even Valle's (a small local chain at the time). And for really living large, the Newbury Steakhouse.
It was on those occasions I remember my mom would usually have a Manhattan before dinner. And always gave me the cherry. Manhattans bring those memories back into sharp focus. By the time I get to the cherry I remember sitting at a white tablecoth in a dimly lit dining room. Dark wood all around, maybe some red on the walls and spindles were popular then. I remember these places always had relish trays on the table.
I don't think there's anyplace you can go today for that kind of experience.