Thursday, September 9, 2010

Manhattan Special

Manhattan Special

Five or six years ago, I was visiting friends in Brooklyn when I heard vague rumors about a locally made coffee-flavored soda with an historic pedigree. I set my sights on this exotic new quarry, trekking from corner store to bodega to corner store in a futile search for "Manhattan Special". Most people had heard of it; nobody had it to sell. My frenzy culminated in an act of sweet-toothed stalking: I bused over to Williamsburg and knocked on the factory door.

And knocked again. And again.

The guy who eventually answered the door was surprised to find a tourist in search of soda, and politely regretful that he couldn't direct me to a single neighborhood store that would have Manhattan Special in stock.

I admitted defeat and left town. When I eventually tried Manhattan Special it was in Oregon, of all places, where a neighbor nostalgic for her East Coast childhood had taken to special ordering it by the case. It tasted more or less like what I always expected coffee would taste like before I'd ever had any: a little fizz and a lot of sweetness rounding off the bitter espresso's sharp edges. The "secret recipe" dates from 1895 and is heavy on coffee beans and cane sugar (the exception being the modern diet version, which contains NutraSweet). The label appears to date from about 1922, and is heavy on drama, verve, and allusions to Rudolph Valentino.

Fast forward to 2010, and Manhattan Special is still in production, still a nostalgic novelty, but now somewhat easier to find thanks to internet sales and growing interest in niche and vintage foods. In this
NYT article, read more about the brother and sister behind Manhattan Special, who took over the family business as teenagers after their father's murder.


Alisa said...

I havent come across this drink but I loved reading their story.Thanks for sharing this :)

Margaret said...


joaniebaby said...

You should have asked the guy to sell you some! I find if you're nice, they will gladly do so, "just this once", or sometimes give you the product. Btw, really like your blog :)