The Ode to the Oxford Manhattan

In May, Katie and I visited New Orleans, then traveled north to Jackson and Oxford, Mississippi on up to Memphis, Tennessee.

Travel in the Deep South seems to invite the question—so what’s your favorite drink?

Gin and tonics have their place.  Certainly the mojito at Havana 59 in Richmond is strikingly beautiful in the smoky haze of a late afternoon.  No doubt the mint julep is worthy of its praise in Southern literature.  But for me there is no finer libation than the Manhattan.

Rumor has it that it was invented around 1874 at the Manhattan Club in New York for Winston Churchill’s mother Lady Randolph Churchill.  Originally a Manhattan was made with one measure of whisky and two measures of vermouth and served straight up but today there are many variations and as such I take it upon myself to report back on what I believe is the best.

I prefer more bourbon to vermouth than Lady Churchill.  On bourbons, I would suggest one of two.  If you want a spicy, biting Manhattan go with Maker’s Mark.  But if you’d rather have your Manhattan rest easy alongside you and comfort you after a long week, go with Knob Creek.

Try:  (1) two parts bourbon to (2) one part vermouth with (3) a dash of red bitters, (4) a spoonful (or two) of thick, organic cherry juice, and (5) two cherries along (6) with crushed ice.

Upon arriving in Oxford, Mississippi, I walked into a restaurant on the square in the middle of town, after a tour of William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oaks, and ordered a Manhattan.  He used a thick, syrupy cherry juice, no cherry, took the whole combination with ice, shook it ceremoniously in a shaker, then strained it into a martini glass—sublime.

Just this year, Oxford lifted its ban on serving alcohol on Sundays.  And the bartender was confident I was the first Sunday Manhattan order in Oxford history. 


H. Van Smith
Trusted Virginia Family Law Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg
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