Sweet vermouth, stiff whiskey, a dash of aromatic bitters and a maraschino cherry to garnish. The Manhattan is a thing of beauty, as simple as it is elegant. Dating back to sometime around the late 1800’s, its origin is the subject of murky legends and bourbon-soaked tales of Prohibition. These days, though, it’s still a decidedly classy thing to order at the bar, and it’s the star of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.
This May 9 through 13, curious hooch connoisseurs will find the eponymous drink alongside other expertly crafted beer, wine and cocktails at the 5-day event. The organizers have dubbed it “part festival, part fête, part conference, part cocktail party” where folks can check out a boozy array of lectures, tastings, demos and galas in celebration of well-made and well-mixed spirits.
The lineup each year is crowd sourced to keep things fresh. "The events run the gamut from purely instructive to riotously hedonistic, with a good spread in between,” says Lesley Townsend, the festival’s founder and director. “And the diversity of the events is truly spectacular. More than anything, these are cultural events, and they just so happen to involve really great cocktails."
Altogether they’ll host 55 ticketed events and take over 67 different bars, restaurants, rooftops and other venues around the city (yep, even outside of Manhattan.) Think of it as the alcoholic mullet of festivals: business and industry up front, party in the back. According to the fest’s producers, “Enthusiasts, professionals, and people who are neither enthusiastic nor professional but who enjoy a proper drink now and again are all welcome to attend.”
Special events this year range from dressy affairs, like the all-out opening gala at the New York Public Library, to rolled-up sleeves at the live maceration experiment inside the New York Distilling Company or sunscreen and shades at the Salvation Taco Rooftop Tequila Party. (Mezcal and meat with a view? Don’t mind if we do.)
The one we’re anticipating the most? We’re already thirsting for the World’s Largest Hand-Muddled Caipirinha set for this Sunday, May 11 at 3:30 p.m. inside the Mondrian Soho Penthouse. Eleven bartenders will gather ‘round to mix up an enormous rendition of the Brazilian drink in honor of the 2014 World Cup. How much cachaça will that take? We can’t wait to find out — with our tastebuds.
The Classic will also host a series of fun-to-watch contests like the The Most Utterly Peculiar Garnish Challenge Invitational, where bartenders from around the city convene to challenge each others’ knife skills. The winner receives the coveted Golden Cucumber, and the satisfaction of creating an awesome lookin’ drink.
"While the Classic is, for the most part, a consumer facing festival, it’s also one of the few occasions during the year when the entire industry has the chance to spend some quality time together,” Lesley says. After all, what better way is there to catch up with an old friend than over the perfect Manhattan?
Admission varies by event from $10 to $395 per person, so check out the full list here and pick your favorite poison.
Photo courtesy of the Classic and Photographer Filip Wolak