Manhattan Transfer Cocktail

For the subway's opening and National Black Cat Day

Your cocktail calendar entry for: October
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For October 27 we’ll be mixing the Manhattan Transfer cocktail to celebrate the anniversary of the New York Subway opening and National Black Cat Day.  We’re not sure when National Black Cat Day was established, but the NY Subway opened in 1904 to much fanfare.  They’ve both endured:  the subway still runs, black cats roam the earth, and cats ride the subway without paying.

New York Subway

New York wasn’t the first city to build a subway.  That honor goes to London, where the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863.  When the New York subway opened in 1904 it was run by the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) and had one line heading from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway.   The public saw it more as an amusement than part of daily life, and around 150,000 people rode it on the first day.  People were certainly intrigued, and as the New York Times reported,

“The general public would not be admitted until 7 o’clock, and its curiosity was vastly whetted all the afternoon by the unfamiliar appearance of crowds emerging from the earth.”

But that first day was not without its own stories and mishaps.  The mayor was supposed to start the first train and then hand over controls to the “motorman.”  But he wouldn’t do it until he’d reached 103rd Street.  A lot of people snuck in without paying, a tradition which endures to this day despite the best efforts of the NY Transit Police.  Fifteen diamonds were lost on the first day of riding.  And the first subway delay happened at 6:00PM that day when a train blew a fuse at 96th Street.  It had to be pushed to 145th Street for a 20-minute delay.  Luckily the general public was not admitted until 7 PM.  And, of course, concern was raised about the ‘space hogs,’ the precursor to manspreading.

Eventually, general annoyance took over from the initial thrill of opening day.  As Time magazine noted, people “descend into the maelstrom of the subways with the haunted resignation of lemmings, there to die the small death of the rush hour.”

Black Cats

We don’t know when the rats showed up in the subway system, but they’ve been reported in the NY area since colonial days.  The subway is certainly one hangout, with a 2014 study estimating there are approximately 2 million down in there.  Which brings us to our next topic, black cats.

Black cats have gotten a bad rap for a long time.  Back in the 13th century the Pope suggested they were associated with Satan.  Edgar Allen Poe published a murder story called The Black Cat.  A black cat in fighting stance was adopted as a symbol of anarchism.  The Pilgrims colonizing America considered them associated with witches, and we all saw how things turned out for witches in the Witches Daiquiri cocktail.

Black cats have needed a spin doctor to improve their reputations.  Groucho Marx probably said it best when he remarked, “If a black cat crosses your path it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

Going somewhere seems to involve the NY subway on occasion.  Here’s an example.  We don’t know how many cats may be lurking in subway tunnels, feasting on the numerous rats, but cats know a good thing when they see it.  And black ones fit right in when it comes to dark tunnels.

The Manhattan Transfer Cocktail

As you would expect, the Manhattan Transfer cocktail is from New York.  It was invented there by Phil Ward at Death & Co. circa 2008.  We’ve mentioned Mr. Ward a number of times, most notably in our discussion of the Last Word cocktail and the Mr. Potato Head school of mixology and a variation thereof he developed called the Final Ward.  Death & Co., of course, is the venerable New York establishment.

The Manhattan Transfer is a rye whiskey based drink and is really a variation on the Old Pal.  The Old Pal, of course, is a variation on the venerable Negroni.  The Manhattan Transfer is yet another Negroni variation, differing from the Old Pal by substituting Ramazzotti for Campari.

If you’re not familiar, Ramazzotti is an Italian amaro developed in 1815 by the herbalist Ausano Ramazzotti.  It’s bittersweet, with distinct espresso, dark chocolate and spice flavors.  Also good as an after-dinner digestif, it’s not an oddball to have around and is widely available.

manhattan transfer cocktail

Manhattan Transfer Cocktail

From Phil Ward at Death & Co. circa 2008, the Manhattan Transfer provides a variation on the Old Pal cocktail by changing out the Old Pal's Campari for another Italian amaro, Ramazzotti. Like Mr. Potato Head where you can substitute parts, changing one component of the drink creates a new, different one.
5 from 1 vote


  • oz Rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Dry vermouth
  • 1 oz Ramazzotti
  • 1 dash Orange bitters
  • No garnish


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Pour in the direction of your liver.
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