Someday, when I am old and gray, I will think back and marvel at the fact that my younger self went so long without trying a drink so good.
It was the name that turned me off originally. "Manhattan" connoted something like the island itself: loud, overwhelming, and deceptively insubstantial — probably pink and sickly-sweet, with grenadine syrup and six maraschino cherries. A Sex and the City drink. But I was mercifully disabused of this notion a few months back by James — one of Disco Volante's small army of friendly, impossibly knowledgeable, and only ever-so-slightly upsell-inclined bartenders — and I've never looked back. Oakland's Manhattan — or at least Disco Volante's ($6) — was cool, caramel-brown and relentlessly complex, made with George Dickel well whiskey, a generous splash of sweet vermouth, and bitters, served straight-up with a plump red grape: no cherries here. This is a real cocktail, and it is perfect.
Especially at a place like this, especially in the late afternoon, when the early-summer sun tumbles in from tall, west-facing windows and the sturdy black-stone bar glints purple-red in the light. It's clear that the owners are going for ambiance here, and they've found it on an unprepossessing corner in downtown Oakland, in a gorgeous art-deco building with a moss-green exterior and stained-glass windows. They hope to use the venue to help spur the revitalization of downtown Oakland.
This revitalization has, of course, been thoroughly buzzed-about by seemingly every individual and institution with a stake in this city, and now, suddenly, we're all calling Oakland the new Brooklyn. Sitting there in Disco Volante — just back from a vacation to the old Brooklyn, incidentally, drinking a Manhattan that was infinitely better than the real Manhattan, in a city that's far more interesting than anything New York has to offer — I could kind of see the comparison. A piano tinkled in the corner, the stained glass sparkled in the sunlight, and all around, happy people chattered and laughed and dipped things in butter. It was New York for a second, but then the piano player started barking like a dog — he does that sometimes — and suddenly it was Oakland again. Even at the early end of happy hour, the room was filled with a disarmingly diverse set of people eating from the extensive menu and sampling drinks — in addition to standards like my Manhattan, the bar offers an ever-changing slate of specialty cocktails, each recipe signed by the bartender that ostensibly invented it. I tried a tequila old-fashioned ($10): Cazadores Reposado, agave nectar, and grapefruit bitters, served on the rocks with a pulpy pink grapefruit slice and several jalapeño rings. It was nice — refreshing and spicy in a way that brought out the agave and the grapefruit flavors — but there's just nothing better than a Manhattan. Especially in Oakland.