The Black Manhattan

The Drink

A variation on the traditional Manhattan using an amaro rather than sweet vermouth. Amaro is a category of bitter or bittersweet Italian herbal liqueur made by soaking a variety of herbs in an alcohol base. The amaro category incorporates a stunning variety of regional variations resulting in spectrum of colors and tastes depending on the alcohol base and the types of herbs used, and the category includes things you might consider in a class of their own, such as Campari, Fernet Branca or Aperol.  

To find a favorite amaro will require some experimentation.  But for this particular cocktail you’ll want as dark an amaro (in coloration) as you can find.  I like Amaro Montenegro, but I also have had good luck with locally produced options.

The basic build is  the same as a Manhattan – which means you have to decide how much amaro makes you happy, just like you have  to decide how much sweet vermouth makes you happy.  Therefore:

  • 2 oz whiskey
  • ¼ to 1 oz amaro
  • dash of bitters

Choose whichever whiskey or bourbon makes you happy. I use Angostura bitters for this cocktail, as they’re darker than orange bitters or Peychaud’s. Combine the ingredients in a shaker with some ice and shake vigorously until the shaker beads up with condensation. Strain into a glass. You can serve it straight up, but if you prefer to let it mellow a bit with more meltage, serve over ice. Garnish with a sour morel cherry. The drink should be so dark you can’t see through it, hence the name. Serving it in a stemmed glass will help ensure the drink stays cold and doesn’t warm up from your hand holding it.

The Encounter

I was introduced to this drink two years ago while in Las Vegas for the BCA Pool League World Championships.  I had some free time before meeting up with teammates so I Ubered from my Airbnb in the Spring Valley area of town to the old downtown Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience.  It’s a sensory overload for sure, but my goal was a little further down the road – Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas.  

This required a walk of several blocks. In Las Vegas. In the late afternoon of July. But at least face masks weren’t a thing yet. The bar itself is small and unassuming given its long history. A long wrap-around bar is the distinguishing feature, with scattered seating inside a dark decor as well as patio seating for those used to the desert heat and looking forward to temperatures dropping down into the upper 90’s after sundown. This is a bar for people who appreciate a good cocktail as opposed to a neighborhood bar where most people are drinking beers or whiskey & Coke. It’s known as an after-hours destination for people in the industry (food & entertainment). If you’re in Vegas, I strongly recommend stopping by.  I was there in the late afternoon and it got busy pretty quickly.  I’m sure it’s a fascinating place once the sun goes down!