When I first heard about the Gallery Bar in Biltmore Downtown’s Manhattan menu, a drink menu showcasing six versions of my favorite cocktail, I just had to investigate. And who better to accompany me than my Manhattan-loving pallie, Johnny the Fish aka John of Social Domain? He’s the guy who can make the perfect Manhattan, the guy who made a bartender cry by berating him for shaking and not stirring, the guy who probably could have convinced Sinatra himself to trade his Jack for a Manhattan. The last time John had one at the Biltmore he was highly disappointed but once I told him of the new Manhattan-dedicated menu he was instantly intrigued.
We arrived on a quiet Monday night. The place was empty save for the two bartenders behind the bar and about five guests lounging in the various seating areas. We grabbed a couple of bar stools and reached for the menu. There it was, the six Manhattans ($16 each). Now before I saw the menu, I had envisioned a cocktail list of Manhattan recipes created by renowned bartenders from around the world or vintage versions of the drink, anything but what lay before my eyes:
- Central Park: Woodford Reserve, Drambuie and Frangelico with cream
- The Big Apple: Wild Turkey, Di Saronno, Apple Schnapps and cranberry juice
- Grand Manhattan: Knob Creek, Grand Marnier and Martini & Rossi Sweet with orange juice
- Manhattan Vacation: Gentleman Jack, Martini & Rossi Sweet and pineapple, orange and apple juices
- Manhattan’s Last Call: Maker’s and Peter Herring Cherry Liqueur with lemon juice.
‘Scuse me? I was devastated. It was only “Sex and the City” reimaginings of the Manhattan. Frangelico? ****Apple Schnapps? John called dibs on the Classic Manhattan (Martini & Ross Sweet with choice of Bookers, Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniels Single Barrel, Knob Creek, Maker’s, Wild Turkey or Woodford Reserve) so I felt it was up to me to try one of the others in the name of research. Bleh. Manhattan’s Last Call sounded like the lesser of all evils…depending on how much cherry liqueur they tossed in there with my Maker’s. Turns out they put about an eight-count of the liqueur in until it turned the drink dark red. And then the bartender proceeded to shake the concoction. “I have to shake it because of the lemon,” he said after John and I gasped. All right, all right, let’s not get ridiculous, I told myself. It’s not really a Manhattan after all so whatev.
The bartender then placed the martini glass filled with the red drink before me, a lemon slice balancing on its rim. I tentatively took a sip. Too sweet! Shoved it toward John. He had the same reaction. That’s when he took over and asked the bartender if he could perhaps just do a one-count of the liqueur. The bartender kindly obliged, sincere in his efforts to make me a drink that I’d like. I really appreciated that since I knew we were being rather high-maintenance compared to the usual fare of hotel guests.
But even with the one count of cherry liqueur I still wasn’t pleased — perhaps it was because there was too much lemon juice — and couldn’t finish it even if I did pay $16 for it. Ah well. John, on the other hand, was able to finish his cocktail even though it wasn’t the best. “I wouldn’t go out of my way for it,” he said.
So that’s why it was imperative that I order a Manhattan when we walked over to Bottega Louie, a restaurant/bar/gourmet market on 7th and Grand, after. I needed to make it up to myself, to help me get over this unshakeable disappointment of having built up that Manhattan menu only to be let down in such a huge way.
On a Monday night, Bottega Louie’s bar area was fairly easy to navigate and there were a number of seats available at its marble bar. When I took a look at their cocktail menu, I couldn’t help but sigh with relief. Gimlets, Ward 8s, Moscow Mules! Huzzah! I was temporarily distracted by the Whiskey Clover cocktail (Basil Hayden, Hennessey VSOP , clover honey water, lemon and orange juice) but then remembered my original purpose. “Manhattan, please,” I asked the bartender. Here, it’s made with Knob Creek 9-year, Antica Carpano sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and garnished with Morello cherries and costs $11.
I watched the bartender intently as he did his thing. I saw him chip the ice, they chip the ice themselves! And then he stirred. Aaaah. When he placed the finished cocktail before me I felt like I had come home. And when I took that first sip, I had to wipe away a couple of tears. I kid you not. I don’t know what took hold of me. Relief, maybe. Happiness, definitely. The cocktail had the perfect measurements of everything. I wanted to swish it around in my mouth and gargle with it before letting it run down my throat. Dee-licious.
I handed John my cocktail and watched him take a sip, saw him consider it for a second and then he said with a subtle smile, “It’s good.”
Biltmore’s Gallery Bar and Cognac Room, 506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90071 (map). (213) 612-1206.
Bottega Louie, 700 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90017 (map). (213) 802-1470?.