Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is a city within a city, where busy commuters can take care of all their needs without ever leaving the building: Shops featuring gourmet groceries, wine & spirits, cards & gifts, clothing, accessories — even a tennis club and an Apple Store.
And of course, lots of places to grab a bite to eat – or relax with a drink before heading home.
My sister and I were not heading home for another day, but we had an afternoon to kill. So we decided to kill a few brain cells while we were at it with cocktails in a Grand Central Station bars.
And what better cocktail to imbibe in Manhattan than a Manhattan? Then one drink led to another and before you knew it, we had embarked on the kind of epic endeavor that only seems like a good idea when you’ve got a buzz on: To sample a Manhattan in every bar in the building.
Yes, it was our own personal Manhattan project.
The Classic Manhattan
For those of you who have never tried this most American of cocktails, you should know that the recipe has been around since the Gilded Age, and has remained pretty much the same:
2 parts whisky, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of bitters. It can be served straight (in a cocktail glass) or on the rocks (in a rocks glass). Garnish can be a twist of lemon or a maraschino cherry.
It sounds simple, but we learned over the course of the afternoon that there are lots of variations within the framework of those three ingredients, thanks to different kinds of whisky, vermouth, and bitters.
The Bar at Cipriani Dolci
Cipriani Dolci is located on the West Balcony and is part of a chain of upscale Italian restaurants that that originated with Giuseppe Cipriani’s legendary Harry’s Bar, opened in 1931 in Venice. This bar feels like it’s that old, too – even though it dates only to the station’s last renovation in 2002.
The bartender there asked if we wanted our drink order dry, sweet, or “perfect.” This referred to the vermouth, with “perfect” made up with equal parts dry and sweet. Since perfection isn’t something you find every day, we opted for that.
And having tasted it, I’ve decided that I will ask for my Manhattans made perfect from now on. The drink’s balance of flavors was indeed, perfect – right down to its Luxardo cherry garnish. This became the benchmark against all the other Manhattans we sipped.
2. Michael Jordan’s Steak House
Right next door to Cipriani on the East Balcony is Michael Jordan’s Steak House. The kitchen was closed for renovations on the day we visited, but the bar was open for business. Alas, their Manhattan was not all we expected.
Linda thought it was because I ordered it on the rocks and waited a few minutes, so it was watered down. But the one at Cipriani was also iced and it was delicious down to the last drop.
Perhaps it was the whisky? We asked for Bulleit in each of the two establishments but didn’t specify bourbon or rye. Perhaps Michael Jordan’s barkeeps were making Manhattans with the former when we were expecting the latter.
I was also disappointed that there was no cherry garnish, which seems a silly thing to be upset about at my age. I guess I really do like to have my cherry on top.
3. The Bar in the Northwest Hall
The Bar at Great Northern Hall is the type of place that employs “mixologists” instead of “bartenders.”
Our mixologist let us know that he trained with Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto. He also informed us that Bulleit wasn’t an option, because The Bar only stocks “artisanal spirits from small batch producers.”
So for our very artisanal Manhattan, we settled on Rittenhouse Pikesville rye, from Kentucky – on the assumption that since Bulleit is made in the same state, it might have a similar flavor.
This Manhattan featured its own mix of bitters: 2 angostura, 2 orange, and 2 peychoud. These were all (of course) handcrafted and sourced locally from Hudson Standard. We got into quite a conversation about bitters with our mixologist, who boasted that he keeps over 100 different kinds of bitters in his apartment.
I may add that our drink also had a house-made maraschino cherry speared by an absolutely gorgeous cocktail pick. And with all that artistry and care, how was it? Delicious.
4. The Oyster Bar
This is the oldest watering hole in Grand Central. The tiled ceiling is gorgeous, but the rest of the decor looks like it was plucked out of the 1970s. We were expecting something that looked old and elegant, so this was a disappointment.
We cannot vouch for the quality of the seafood, but they do make a good, generic-tasting Manhattan with a pedestrian maraschino cherry.
The Oyster Bar was our last stop on our tour of Manhattans in Manhattan. We had a dinner reservation to catch in the Bowery, were definitely feeling all that bourbon and vermouth… and were under the impression that we’d actually hit every bar in the terminal. Alas, when we got back home and began the research to finish this post, we learned that there are at least two more bars we never got to see during our visit.
So now we have a reason to return…