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The Crimson Hour: Manhattan Confidential

Wherein I confess my sins as a fan and suggest that Manhattans accompany purification.

Cole pining after another visit to the Rodin Museum.
Cole pining after another visit to the Rodin Museum.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

I find myself in a confessional mood. As teams like the Astros and Cardinals gallop away on thoroughbreds, the Phillies canter down the track on a clumsy mule garlanded in hay and dandelions. Buck-toothed and braying, the mule occasionally launches forward from his haunches only to find his forelegs mid-canter and stumbles back into a slower, more-manageable, uncompetitive pace. And I now watch from the stands through webbed fingers that shutter every so often.

So, I confess that I have not been able to watch all of the games this season. And I feel guilty. For instance, I did not watch most of Wednesday night's thrilling Hamels game. When I then heard that he threw a warm-up pitch before suddenly being replaced on the mound and there were rumors that Hamels had been traded, I felt my shoulders slouch away from my ears to shield my chest as my sin, risking missing the final start of one of the greatest Phillies pitchers, perched on my back for a piggy-back ride. I vow not to miss another Hamels start as ardently as any cleansed sinner vows reform, and I am just as confident that I am unlikely to abide by that vow over the next four months.

Alas, seasons like these test the fan's fanaticism. We all had low expectations entering this season. We were as prepared for this season as any fans could be. Nevertheless, anticipation, however savvy, omits the nooks and crannies of concrete events. We anticipate the static and live the dynamic, and amidst this oscillation between being toward the future and living for moment I nauseate at the former's inadequacy and the latter's naivety. Would that we had a team like this weekend's opponents—the Giants—whose fans expected the team to lag behind and have received the bounty of racing near the front-runners. Of course, YMMV.

And with that jealousy of both skill and recent good fortune I have more to confess. At this point, with so much to disburden, I should do us both the favor of cutting the honesty with alcohol. But what cocktail fits? Indeed, if you take your cues from pop culture then you surely believe that confessions are not given over cocktails. No. One confesses over beer or whiskey or, if one is Italian, grapa. Think of classic confessional scenes in movies. In the Truman Show, for example, Noah Emerich elicits the cause of Jim Carrey's disturbance over beer and the driving range to nowhere. In the Godfather, Michael, Tom, and Vito arrange their most secret plots over porto. Think of any scene in a bar where a wayward character unwittingly seeks advice from an anonymous friend; he or she is not drinking a martini. No. Martinis are for business and parties. They belong to the realm of masks, personas, one's best faces and feet forward. If Rollo Tamasi were revealing his convoluted criminal scheme to you while sipping a negroni, you would have good reason to suspect he was not telling you everything needed to know to foil his plot. Cocktails are complex in flavor and often sweet but potent enough to seem honest without being so. And so they pair well with some truth but not the whole truth. Or at least this is what our popular culture presents to us.

As a rejoinder to this depiction I offer the Manhattan, the whole truth in a martini glass. It is the perfect pair to a quiet night with a friend discussing what matters most without bar and without regret, expect perhaps the next morning's regret after drinking too many. Manhattans—earthy, fruity, and just a little sweet—are easily mixed and even more easily drunk. A simple mix of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters, the manhattan is an old cocktail and one of the few that probably originated in New York City, as one of the five borough cocktails. (The others are not very good, except perhaps the Brooklyn.) For anyone who likes to sip whiskey, the manhattan is a wonderful enhancement to that gustatory experience. This one is a personal favorite. If I do not have one for a while, I come to miss its warm familiarity and the way it finishes an evening with a balance of the savory and the sweet. From this balance arises its unique propensity for honesty among the cocktails. I find it remoods me toward impartiality and fair-mindedness.

Tools: Mixing Cup, Strainer, Martini Glass, Spoon

Ingredients: Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Aromatic Bitters, Maraschino Cherry

  1. Place Glass in freezer.
  2. Fill Mixing Cup with ice.
  3. Pour 2 oz Whiskey, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, and 3-4 dashes of Bitters into Mixing Cup.
  4. Remove Glass from freezer.
  5. Spoon out Cherry and place in Glass.
  6. Stir contents of Mixing Cup with Spoon to distribute ingredients. Be careful not to break up the ice.
  7. Strain contents into Glass. Enjoy!

The manhattan is another cocktail that can range from low-rent to penthouse, depending on the ingredients. You can make it with Pappy Van Winkle and it will be amazing, assuming you find a worthy vermouth. But I doubt you want to use PVW that way. (And if you happen to have PVW, please invite me over to your house. I'm a great house guest.) You can also make it with Windsor Canadian but you risk missing out on the particular allures of mixing vermouth with a more complex whiskey.

There are variations on the manhattan. The dry manhattan replaces the sweet vermouth with dry. And the perfect manhattan uses the same amount of vermouth but splits it evenly between sweet and dry. I used to drink exclusively perfect manhattans but have recently returned to the original recipe.

And now a toast:

Here's to every Hamels start we have left to enjoy. May I never again take the privilege for granted. But if I do, I'll be sure to confess and down the requisite manhattan.