The Little Italy Cocktail is a take on the classic Manhattan cocktail. It's also known as a Cynar Manhattan, and the small amount of Cynar really changes the taste and character of the drink. It gives it a bitter edge, but also a lot of sweetness, and it complements the warm tones of the rye whiskey. If you're a whiskey lover, this one is a real treat!
This new classic was created in 2005 by Audrey Saunders for the opening of Pegu Club in New York City, which she co-founded. Although Pegu Club closed in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic shutdowns, its legacy lives on as one of the driving forces behind the cocktail revival of the early 2000's. (You can read more in this NY Times article about the closing of this iconic bar.)
If you love this cocktail, try out the Tipperary Cocktail, a tasty and complex mix of Irish whiskey and Chartreuse. Or, the Vieux Carré will also be right up your alley! For something with more of a fruity twist, try out this tasty Blood Orange Whiskey Sour.
There are only a few ingredients in this cocktail, so each one will have a big impact on the finished cocktail. Here is what you'll need:
- Rye Whiskey - I've used the New Orleans classic, Sazerac Rye Whiskey. Look for a straight rye, which means it has been aged at least two years and is not mixed with any other spirits.
- Sweet Vermouth - I've used Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, which is my go-to (I am an Italian American from New Jersey, after all!)
- Cynar - Cynar liqueur is an artichoke-based amaro, although it doesn't taste much like artichokes. It is bitter, but also very sweet and has some cola and caramel notes.
- Maraschino Cherries - preferably a good quality brand (Luxardo cherries are my fave).
Substitutions and Variations
When you are working with a cocktail like this, substituting ingredients is likely to give you a whole different drink experience! Here are some ways you can create variations on this recipe:
- Bourbon - using bourbon instead of rye whiskey will give you a little smoother of a drink, with less of a spicy bite that you might get with rye whiskey.
- Different amaro - if you don't have Cynar, try substituting a different amaro (bittersweet liqueur). There are hundreds of different amari, with a couple of the most popular being Ramazzotti amaro and Averna amaro. You'll get a different flavor with each one you try.
- Different vermouth - just like the amari, there are many different types of sweet vermouth. For a more budget-friendly option that is still very tasty, try out Cinzano Rosso sweet vermouth.
- Smoked - if you've been looking for an excuse to use a cocktail smoker, this drink is perfect for it!
Since there are no juices or anything cloudy in this drink, this is a stirred cocktail (not shaken). Stirring helps to keep air bubbles to a minimum and it doesn't dilute the drink as fast as shaking.
You'll need some kind of heavy-bottomed mixing glass, along with a long bar spoon, a jigger, and a cocktail strainer. You'll also need a serving glass, preferably a stemmed glass like a Nick & Nora style, and a reusable cocktail pick or a toothpick for the garnish.
To make the Little Italy cocktail, measure out the rye whiskey and add it to the cocktail mixing glass, followed by the Cynar.
Then, measure and add the sweet vermouth to the mixing glass. Fill the mixing glass with ice.
Using a long bar spoon, stir the cocktail for about 30 seconds. Try to spin the spoon around the mixing glass, keeping the back of the spoon in contact with the glass as you move it around in a circle. Then, strain the liquid into the serving glass.
Add two maraschino cherries to a cocktail pick and place it on top of or into the serving glass. Serve immediately.
Hint: If you'd like, you can express the oils from an orange peel over the top of this cocktail for a nice finishing aroma. Do this by cutting a large piece of orange peel, and folding or twisting it over the glass.
Frequently Asked Questions
As a rule of thumb, a cocktail with cloudy ingredients (like juice, milk or cream) are shaken. Cocktails with clear ingredients or that are spirit-forward are usually stirred, which gives more control over the amount of dilution. Stirring chills the liquid without diluting as much, and doesn't incorporate air.
Cynar liqueur has some deep bitter notes, but it also has a lot of sweetness. It really doesn't taste much like an artichoke, but it does have a lot of different vegetal flavors that go really well with the warm caramel and toffee notes. If you are into amari, this is a great one and is delicious on its own.
Top Tip: Batching
This is a great cocktail to batch before a party, and you can keep the whole thing in a pitcher in the fridge. Just multiply the amounts by the number of drinks you want to make, and then add in ½ ounce of water per cocktail. This will eliminate the need to stir it with ice, since it will already be chilled, diluted and ready to enjoy!
Little Italy Cocktail (Cynar Manhattan)
- Cocktail stirring glass
- Cocktail strainer
- Add the rye whiskey, vermouth and Cynar to a cocktail mixing glass.
- FIll the mixing glass with ice and, using a long bar spoon, stir the mixture for 30 seconds to chill and dilute it.
- Using a cocktail strainer, strain the liquid out of the mixing glass and into your serving glass.
- Add two maraschino cherries to a cocktail pick for a garnish. You can rest the pick across the top of the drink, or just let it sit in the drink itself.
- Serve immediately. Optionally, express the oils of an orange peel across the top of the drink before serving (see Notes).