It’s been nearly two years to the day since Danny Meyer’s sky-high Manhatta was shuttered by the pandemic. Today, the restaurant that occupies the 60th floor of a FiDi highrise finally reopens. Well, not quite all of it.
For now, it is just the Bar at Manhatta that’s making its triumphant return. A bar with arguably the best downtown views, it’s now helmed by Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) newcomer Cameron Winkelman, who’s dreamt up a brand-new cocktail menu for the space.
Winkelman joined USHG in late January after working at The Polynesian, Mace, and Dante. And as Manhatta’s head bartender, he’s eager to push the beverage program as far as he can toward the unexpected.
“Before I even had an interview, I asked how weird they’d be willing to get with the cocktails. They were all excited by that question,” Winkelman laughs. “It’s been an awesome match so far.”
Pulling from his past experiences and mentors, playing with unusual flavor pairings, and taking cues from kitchen techniques, Winkelman has created a drinkable ode to New York — a menu that celebrates the city’s many neighborhoods and flavors. Here are the five cocktails he’s most excited about.
1. Snap Judgement
(Snap pea-infused blanco Tequila, cantaloupe, lemon, chamomile, soy, spices)
“I do cocktails with a culinary perspective. That means using culinary techniques that are a little more advanced in the kitchen and pulling flavors from food as well. This first cocktail, Snap Judgement, is actually a very good example of that.
Back when I was at Mace, I had a guest who, for my birthday, brought me a cookbook from Eleven Madison Park, as inspiration to use for some cocktails someday. When I was making this menu for Manhatta, I actually flipped through it, and in their spring recipes, I found one that was using snap peas, cantaloupe, and a chamomile broth. I took those flavors and translated them into this cocktail.
At its most base, it’s Tequila and tonic. I take snap peas and infuse them into the Tequila, take cantaloupe juice, lemon juice, and coconut water that’s steeped with chamomile and a bunch of different spices, and I clarify the entire thing with soy milk, so it comes out crystal clear. Then, I take that cocktail, put it in a Collins glass, top it with tonic, and garnish it with some pea tendrils. It’s a really refreshing highball.”
2. Mistakes Were Made
(Fig leaf-infused ume plum, Bitter Bianco, botanical liqueur, cucumber, grapefruit)
“This is a Negroni sbagliato — sbagliato meaning ‘mistaken,’ because instead of having gin, the Negroni actually has some bubbles. Instead of using sweet vermouth, I’m taking an ume plum liqueur that’s this really vibrant purple color and infusing it with fig leaves. I’m also adding a botanical liqueur called Rockey’s, and it just adds a whole bunch of complexity. To keep the color of the purple really strong and vibrant, I’m using this clear bitter called Luxardo Bitter Bianco and then just a touch of grapefruit bitters. And then I’m topping it with a little bit of Crémant bubbles.
It’s served on a large rock in a rocks glass, and it has a cucumber that slips behind the rock, so when you put your face in it, you’re really getting tons of cucumber and grapefruit oil. Then you sip and there’s all the plum and fig leaf, and the botanicals. It’s really refreshing and nice. Like an apéritif-style drink, because of that bitter element.
I just love fig leaves and ume plums and I wanted to bring those things together. And with the combination of cucumber, it’s three things that I’ve never had but work amazingly together. Most of the time when I’m making cocktails, it’s really about trying to find those interesting flavor pairings. I don’t have any interest in making a watermelon-lime juice-tequila drink, you know what I mean? It’s been done. I’m looking for the flavors that maybe haven’t been paired together, or maybe only for a food dish, but were never put in a liquid form.”
3. Big Trouble in Little Italy
(Pandan-infused rye, Carpano Antica, Cynar, Chinotto)
“This actually gets into a different part of the menu. We have one part of the menu that’s mostly all brand-new cocktails that I’ve created, which is what those first two were on. And then, we have a section of neighborhood-inspired cocktails that are named after different parts of New York City. I have five cocktails in Manhattan, with this one being one of them.
It’s based off a cocktail made by Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club in 2005, I think, called the Little Italy, made with rye, sweet vermouth, and Cynar. Most of these neighborhood-inspired cocktails are all pretty boozy, a lot of them just being Manhattan drinks themselves. I wanted to get away from every single one of them just being brown, stirred, and served in a coupe. So, I took the Little Italy and turned it into a highball.
I backed off the amount of rye whiskey just a bit but kept the ratio of Cynar and sweet vermouth the same to each other. I took the rye and infused it with pandan leaves, which is something I am very familiar with from working at Mace. I top it with an Italian soda called Chinotto, which is made with chinotto oranges and a bunch of different spices, and it turns into an amazing, refreshing highball. We serve it with an orange wedge and an olive, another classic Italian spritz-like garnish.
One fun little note about all this is that Audrey Saunders actually trained and taught Brian Miller, who then trained and taught me at The Polynesian. It’s a cool, little ‘coming full circle’ with that cocktail. I think it’s pretty neat.”
4. Look to the Cookie
(Aquavit, Empirical Spirits Quince, white peach, wild rice, black sesame, whole egg)
“‘Look to the cookie’ is actually a ‘Seinfeld’ reference, but also, the top of the cocktail looks like a black and white cookie, also a New York thing. I’m trying to pay homage to the city.
I mentioned I worked at Mace before — Nico [de Soto, founder of Mace] always has a flip on the menu. A flip is a cocktail with a whole egg in it, so it’s very creamy. You have to shake it once without any ice, shake it a whole bunch to really froth up the egg, and then you have to shake it again with ice. It takes a bit of extra time but they’re very worth it in my opinion.
Nico would always have one on the menu. And every once in a while, he’d have a combination of black rice and coconut milk, which was based off a Malaysian dessert he had had while traveling. Those flavors were always so amazing to me, so I definitely wanted to create my own spin on that.
I took black rice, blended it with water, then combined it with white peach purée, and coconut milk. I then use a spirit that’s made from quince kombucha that’s been distilled, and then add the base — I’m using aquavit, which is also a nod to Nico, because he loves aquavit. I let the egg settle, like a meringue on top, and then I dust it with some white salt, so you can’t see it. Then, I cover half the cocktail with a card and dunk it with black sesame powder. So, when you remove the card, it’s a perfect black and white cookie on top. You go to sniff, and you can smell all of the roast-y notes from the black sesame, but when you sniff below, there’s all the white peach, coconut, and quince. It’s a very special experience. It’s probably my favorite cocktail.”
5. Pollen Oats
(Fennel pollen, bourbon, Aperol, cherry, honey, ginger, kombucha)
“This is like a really refreshing, slightly lengthened whiskey sour at its base.
I take bourbon and cook it sous vide with fennel pollen, strain it through a coffee filter, and combine it with some Aperol. I then take black cherry juice and add some citric and malic acid to bring it to a similar acidity as lemon and lime, instead of a sweeter cherry juice. For the sweet component, I’m taking honey and ginger and making a syrup out of that. I combine everything, shake it, and pour it over a large cube in a rocks glass, and then I top it with a tart cherry kombucha and fennel frond as well.
It’s got a little bit of funk and acidity going on from the kombucha, a lot of herbal notes coming from the fennel. It’s super-duper complex in how it comes across on the palate, but it’s also just a slightly bubblier whiskey sour, really. It’s very easy-drinking and a little more low-ABV [alcohol by volume] than most other cocktails or whiskey sours, too. The neighborhood cocktails tend to lean on the boozier side, so I tried to make a lot of the other cocktails on the menu a little more ‘sessionable,’ so you could have more than one or two, still be with us, enjoy yourself, and keep tasting more things.”
The Bar at Manhatta is open seven days a week from 5 to 11:30 p.m.