You can’t order this cocktail at The Ritz, George V, The Peninsula, Villa San Michele, The Carlisle, Parrot Cay or your favorite neighborhood bar. You have to go out of your way, about 100 miles north of Manhattan (the city) to The Red Onion Restaurant and Bar in Woodstock. It’s my neighborhood bar, 12 miles, “out of the way,” down a country road on the edge of the village. But once there, Raymund Ganade will either greet you at the door or you can spot him behind the bar. Jovial, friendly, a guy with a great smile. All that goes into his creative and yummy manhattan. The secret ingredient is explained in this exclusive interview with him.
TD: I can almost hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young singing “by the time we get to Woodstock, we can have a Ray’s Manhattan.” It’s worth the trip in my book. What is special about your Manhattan?
RG: There are a couple of things that differentiate a Ray’s from a regular Manhattan. First, I use Cointreau instead of sweet vermouth. Second I garnish the drink with an orange slice instead of a maraschino cherry.
TD: Why Cointreau? Will the purist object?
RG: I use Cointreau because I personally like the liquor. As well as Grand Marnier. I like the orange flavor that they impart without the acidity of citrus. I’m sure a purist would not want to call the drink a Manhattan in the true sense, but I vainly get around that by naming it after myself. It just seemed like an easy thing to do. I suppose I should really call it a Ray’s Brooklyn if we’re going to nitpick. (I’ve spent most of my life there prior to coming to the Hudson Valley.) Although I believe a real “Brooklyn” is made with dry vermouth and Amer Picon, a French orange flavored bitter. Which would probably do the Ray’s some justice!
Ingredients (You can try this at home!)
• 3 oz. Maker’s Mark
• 1.5 oz Cointreau
• 4 dashes Angostura bitters
• Martini Glass
• Slice of orange
• Shaken over ice, strained in martini glass or over the rocks. Add orange slice for garnish.
TD: Did you get this one right the first time or did it take a couple of tries?
RG: I was fortunate: I got it right the first time. It was a simple substitution for the Cointreau.
TD: So you are a “mixologist”? I’m not fond of that label: it sounds like a specialist at the local hospital. What’s your take on that label?
RG: I’m not big on “mixologist” either. I really do prefer [the name]bartender. It’s what I grew up with, and to me, bartender, adds much more depth to the profession than just one who mixes drinks like an alchemist. Alchemists only want their potions to effect the world with their potions. One who tends bar takes care of the bar and what is going on both sides of the bar. I personally like to effect the world directly, sometimes that is. “Sheep-tending” is more my thing, although I would never want to be called a “sheepologist”.
TD: The Red Onion is a great local restaurant. And you have a great bar, including the first that I’ve seen that has Amorick on the shelf? Who decides what you buy and stock? And, how long have you been at The Red Onion.
RG: I’ve been working at the Red Onion for two and a half years now. Kevin Katz, the chef and owner, does most of the deciding on purchasing. Although he has a very open to suggestions and often times will enlist us to help form a decision by committee. He does most of the wine selections himself as well. And as one can see by our wine list, it is well thought out and well executed menu: he has an excellent palette.
TD: How’d you end up bartending and getting into the restaurant business?
RG: I started bartending when I was in my twenties, I’m forty-six now. Actually, I started in the business when I was fourteen as a dishwasher, and apart from chef, sommelier and owner, I have worked almost every job in a restaurant at one point or another.
TD: What was your first taste of whisky? Did your grandmother slip you a nip?
RG: I remember Johnny Walker being at every Filipino party that I went to. Nips were always to be passed and had. I don’t remember the exact moment but it probably was from a bottle of Johnny Black. I can tell you for sure that the first whiskey that I got drunk on was Jack Daniel’s… However, I was fortunate to work in a bar in my twenties that carried a large number of single malts, almost forty, and received a fair education on some of their characteristics and origins.
TD: So you’re a New Yorker?
RG: A New York “Stater” for sure. I moved to the City to go to art school when I was eighteen and just as recently as four years ago moved to the Hudson Valley. I actually live in Hurley near Woodstock.
TD: So is this the Manhattan connection?
RG: I’d have to say the Manhattan connection is that Maker’s Mark is one of my favorite liquors out there and that’s why I chose it for the drink. I really enjoy its sweetness as a bourbon and it’s balance of sweetness to its alcohol proof. I especially enjoy a Maker’s on the rocks. You can take your time with it and the drink takes on different dimensions as the ice melts (as do all drinks on the rocks). I can never begrudge anyone for wanting to keep the ice cubes from their last drink. And as I said earlier I also really enjoy Cointreau and Grand Marnier. I worked at a French restaurant early on in my career and we would flambé Duckling la Orange tableside with Grand Marnier. I always loved the aroma. At the Red Onion I chose Cointreau because we also use it for our House Margarita’s and as a matter of practicality it was well within reach. It worked just fine for the Ray’s. The bitters just add a balance again to the extra sweetness coming from the Cointreau.
TD: Where did you grow up or are you still working on that?
RG: I was born in the Philippines and moved to New Rochelle in Westchester when I was four. We moved a little further upstate to Yorktown Heights before I went to college in the City. One of these days, as you suggest in your question, I’ll be able to answer that question with a touch more thoroughness.
TD: Anyone ever say, “Ray, that’s not the way you make an Americano or Singapore Sling?
RG: You know, they do. And if they want a drink made a certain way I’ll do it. It doesn’t take much to make people happy when it comes to making drinks, if you give them what they want. I might not always like what I make for them, but I can’t help but think that if that particular experience with what they want takes them somewhere they want to be, then good for them.
TD: When you are not “barring” around, what else interests you and occupies some of your time?
RG: Mostly, I try to spend as much time with my wife and my dogs as I can. I do also spend a bit of time writing fiction, drawing, looking at art, reading, you know, the stuff that gets the crazies out of my head or keeps them in, depending upon your perspective of course.
TD: I like the fact that you have seasonal cocktails at the Red Onion. What do you and your colleague Nick Belle, have in store for summer?
RG: I wish I could say rightly. We have a pretty good stock of drinks from the restaurant’s archives. I think Nick has a thing or two up his handsome sleeves. I’m always trying to think of things that my wife likes, so I think of her favorites, which means I may have to concoct something with Pimms. I think I also see some cool refreshing cucumbers in the future.
TD: Many thanks, Ray. We’ll check out that Pimms cocktail next. To bring things full circle, as the song says, “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Note: Pictured below is a Ray’s Manhattan that I photographed as I drank it. Also a photograph of the man Ray. Click on any image and it turns into a slide show that you can control.