Essential Cocktails: The Manhattan

Home Manhattan

Ah, the Manhattan—one of the most classic cocktails and one of Josh's and my favorites.

I have so many great memories of this drink and its lovely, spicy balance of wood and sweet.

It was actually one of the first cocktails that Josh and I learned to make. Cramped into the small dorm room in a college music frat, one of Josh's old buddies opened up his clothes closet to reveal an ad hoc shelf made out of two chairs and a few pieces of plywood, a delicate looking structure that held a sophisticated array of spirits that he had collected from online shopping—and, what's more, a home ice machine.

We were enchanted. With old jazz bubbling out of his stereo system (college music majors—go figure), John twirled a mixing glass in one hand and a jigger in the other—and began to show us how to make a Manhattan. John—a slimly built college senior who was fond of sweaters, cigars, rocking chairs, and classical music—was also a surprising, self-taught bartender. He had scoured all the books available at the time and made careful notes in the recipes' margins, honing each through trial and error. Don Lee, who would later teach me all sorts of cocktail wonders, told me that learning to make cocktails in a vacuum was impossible. For ordinary folks like Josh and me, it certainly was. But John had somehow become a self-made man in his exploration of some of the classics. The bar renaissance might have very well have started in that tiny dorm room.

The second memory that comes to mind is actually a work party in DC. On a cold day in February, a coworker and I decided to go in on a dozen oysters. We paired it with a strong Makers Mark Manhattan with more than its fair share of bitters. Somehow perfect.

Enough of this sentimentalism schmentalism. On to recipes!

The key to a good Manhattan, in Josh and my minds, is water content. A lot of people dump everything into a glass, add a couple of cubes, and give it a single stir (or worse, shake). When they pour it out, it tastes bitter and sour. When you stir the cocktail adequately and let it sit, the water pulls out all of the lovely characteristics of the whiskey. It becomes almost floral. The bitters become Christmas spice, instead of pepper spice, and the Vermouth becomes smooth.

So here is how we like to make a Perfect Manhattan (perfect being both sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, which is what we prefer):


1.5 oz whiskey (I went for Buffalo Trace this time, which is on the sweet side—I'll often reach for a Rye instead, like Rittenhouse or Old Overholt)
.25 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 dash peychaud's bitters


1. Build cocktail in mixing glass filled with ice
2. Pour in all ingredients.
3. Stir, stir, stir. Stir. Add more ice. Stir, stir, stir for 30 seconds. (Stir cocktails with no citrus. Shake cocktails with citrus.)
4. Let sit for a bit.
5. Add more ice, if room. Give it a last stir.
6. Strain into coupe glass with julep strainer.
7. Serve up.

Garnish: cherry (Luxardo cherry, if you can afford!)




Cross-posted from The Joy of Drinking.

The Crazy and the Crazy Awesome on Hammacher Schlemmer

I. Love. Hammacher. Schlemmer.

I think I spent a fair amount of my childhood divided between infomercials and the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue (Cool from a young age, I tell you!).

Where else can you find such an amazing and imaginative balance between the utterly extravagant and utterly useful. It's like that Google product tenet of creating things for people before they even know they need it. Yes. How did you know that I needed a full-size arcade game in my house? Send it to me now.

It's been a long time since I browsed the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue partially because, well, there are so few catalogues anymore. But a recent tweet in my timeline led me back. All the way back.

And thus I present my favorite crazy and crazy awesome products found from Hammacher Schlemmer. You decide which is which.

1. The Virtual Keyboard

What does it feel like to type on air? Well, you can find out with this Bluetooth device that projects a keboard using lasers. Dr. Evil would be so proud! Available for $199.


2. Voice Activated R2-D2

I was just looking for one of these. The little Star Wars guy responds to voice commands like "run around," enjoys a good game of tag, and ocassionally gets in a bad mood (no joke). So much fun for the next party. It really is our only hope. Available for $199.95.


3. The Authentic Boardwalk Photo Booth

I don't have a boardwalk, but I rather want one of these photo booths for my living room. Think of the parties! Available for $11,000. Two for $22,000.


4. The Children's Night Vision Monocular

I don't have a boardwalk and I don't have a child, but if I did have a child, I think they might need a way to get around the house at night. Available for $69.95.


5. Darth Vader CD Player

It's a totally awkward scene in Star Wars when you see the back of Anakin Skywalker's exposed head and you realize that he's pale, old, and bald. And I think I might feel a little bit like that everytime I put a CD into this Darth Vader CD player. But you have to admit, the way the cover opens is pretty cool. And most people would just think it's a really neat statue most of the time. Available for $69.95.


6. Smartphone call recorder

It's harder to find these devices than you would expect. I would have killed for one of these gadgets when I was a reporter trying to record (with permission) my interviews. Available for $199.95.


7. The personal speaker pillow

Listen to music without bothering the person next to you with this special pillow that pipes tunes right into your ear. Available for $29.95.


8. Impervious iPod Speaker Case

If a safe is too big for you to lug around to protect your iPod, consider this impervious iPod Speaker Case, which will instead bring the size down to a mere Walkman from the 80s.

Essential Cocktails: The (Tweaked) Aviation

Tweaked Aviation

Josh and I are returning to our abandoned blog to post, among other San Francisco and home adventures, a series about what we consider our essential cocktails—tried-and-true favorite drinks that you can make at home with affordable ingredients.

So when Josh asked for something refreshing this evening, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to kick this thing off and turned right to the Aviation.

The problem? Well, I started to tweak it.

The modern classic version typically calls for four ingredients: gin, maraschino liquer, lemon, and creme de violette (a fragrant purple liquer that indeed tastes like the delicate flower).

Though I had planned to follow the classic recipe, as I built the cocktail in the shaker, I started to recall my typical experience with Aviations—that is, they just taste too sour.

And thus I found my hands deviating from the typical order of things. We ended up with the following:


  • 2 oz of gin (typically, I would use 1.5 oz, but my citrus today was particularly sour. I compensated with more base spirit)
  • .5 oz lemon
  • .5 oz Demerara simple syrup (1:1)
  • .25 oz Luxardo maraschino liquer
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Rinse: R&W Creme de Violette

Shaken and poured up in a coup glass.

I was actually pleasantly surprised that adding simple syrup compensated for the tartness I've tasted before, and the ango gave a nice balance—a particularly helpful complement to the Creme de Violette which can be too fragrant and overpowering.

Has anyone else tweaked the Avaiation in a similar fashion?

Cross posted from The Joy of Drinking.

A Yahoo! kind of holiday

Good storytelling at large organizations is not only about creating strong, consistent narratives. It's about creating a real experience. And part of the way to do it is through visual storytelling.

The thing about visual storytelling is that it's really successful content on social media—it's been true for every account I've ever been behind. Visual storytelling is emotionally compelling and easy to share.

So it was a lot of fun to shoot some of the holiday festivities on campus to share with the world. The campus is full of (purple!) cheer, so I grabbed our camera, hoisted up my old photojournalism skills (thank you, Medill), and captured some of the fun holiday decorations around the office.

Looks like it's a purple Christmas (or Hanukkah or other December holiday) for us!

A sunny day in San Francisco 1958

San Francisco 1958 from Jeff Altman on Vimeo.

Found this old footage of San Francisco on the Atlantic. Apparently, the back story is that:

Jeff Altman, a professional film colorist in Chicago, restored the film, which was shot by his grandfather. He was a police officer in Chicago and a 16mm film enthusiast, shooting rolls of perfectly exposed film on trips around the U.S.

It's very, very cool to see the city I live in 60 years ago. Strangely, much of the city feels the same. The cable cars are still here (including the turnaround on Powell) and the skyline has the same aesthetic with landmarks like Alcatraz and Coit Tower piercing the skyline, despite some other notable absences. I also love seeing the charming fashion of the time.

I can really geek out on this urban history stuff. I was pretty obsessed with it when I lived in Chicago and London. I read tons of books, took classes, and went on all sorts of tours. I think part of it is that understanding the histories of the cities in which I live makes me feel a part of something bigger. I understand where we came from and where we're going. 

When I first got to San Francisco, I went in search of urban history books about the City. Interestingly, I didn't turn up too many—at least not as many as I could find about New York, London, and Chicago. Does anyone know why?

I have a couple of crazy theories on it:

1. San Francisco is a young city in comparison to its other American metropolis peers. San Francisco was first settled in 1776, some two centries after New York City was first settled by the Dutch. London, of course, way preceded both cities, since the British capitol was one of the first modern cities ever created. But the city of San Francisco is in many ways still younger. I think the earthquake and fire of 1906 must have wiped out much of the old archtecture. Which is why there may not be as much of a historical connection to the days of old. 

2. Maybe the most vibrant historical era is in the counter-culturalism of the 50s and 60s—and could that distill less reverance for history? There's a lot about San Francisco that has pushed the status quo. The Beat Generation, the Hippie Counterculture, Berkeley in general, and Harvey Milk. Ironically, maybe this city has had a historical disregard for the past.

Anyone else have ideas about why there many not be as much depth of urban history here? Or any book recommendations?

To make you smile: Interpretive Christmas dance

Stumbled across this video on Holy Kaw, and it just makes me smile! Talk about holiday spirit. This is what happens when the holiday season and jazz hands come together. :-)

It seems to be from an NYC-based YouTube duo called The Yahs Initiative.

The funny coincidence is that when I watched the group's other holiday video, it turns out that my high school classmate is featured in it! Look for the random Asian dude.

Hope this gives you the dancing feeling.

Christmas tree decorating success!


Christmas tree 2011


Christmas Tree decorated


  • 1 large Christmas tree
  • 2 bottles of premium Charles Shaw wine
  • 2 packages of mulling spices
  • 1 Target run
  • 2 sets of white tree lights
  • 1 box Trader Joe's sugar cookie mix
  • assorted ornament balls from Target
  • friends


Mix all ingredients together. Let mingle for several hours.

Result: Tree decorating success!

We had a lovely holiday get together of friends this past weekend, during which we made sugar cookies, mulled wine, played shovunda, and decorated the tree. The result was triumphant: a beautiful Christmas tree!

Happy holidays to all!