It was once ubiquitous on the streets of New York City. Made since 1895, this thick and sweet drink of coffee, seltzer and a lot of sugar was a rite of passage for a few generations of New Yorkers. Today, Manhattan Special mostly survives from the pleasant memories of retirees and a small but growing segment of local hackers who prefer its candylike taste to Club-Mate.
However, it seems that finding Manhattan Special is about as difficult as finding Club-Mate in New York. You can easily order it online, but finding a store that carries it in Manhattan is rather difficult feat. A message posted on their retail locator went unanswered. I looked in several delis throughout the lower half of Manhattan, half of whom admitted to knowing about it without giving me a lead on where I could find it. Even local aficionados of the drink couldn’t tell me exactly where they found it, only that it „should be“ available at one out of every five random bodegas in Brooklyn. I was about to give up when I managed to stumble across a deli that carried it through seamless.com.
For as much hassle as I went through to find it, I ended up expecting something a bit more special and nuanced. Unfortunately, it’s rather unremarkable. Just as Club-Mate’s flavor resembles the tea it comes from, a vague notion of coffee flavor comes through in the taste of Manhattan Special. Those who drink coffee with a lot of sugar will likely find it pleasing, though others may find their palates offended by the bold texture and overpowering sweetness. It’s little wonder that children seem to love it, while adults might find it a bit hard to take. It’s only lightly carbonated, and tends to go flat unusually quickly. The flavor seems like it could very easily be replicated with thick bland coffee, seltzer and sugar.
Served cold or at room temperature doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in terms of flavor, though I would strongly recommend against opening an unchilled bottle.
As far as caffeine content, there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable difference between Manhattan Special and a like amount of coffee. Admittedly, after the fourth one, I began to enjoy the flavor much more but I had to resort to Club-Mate to keep myself awake.
If you can find it, it’s definitely worth trying once but I find it hard to believe that it’ll emerge to be a legendary Hacker drink.