He was a Manhattan man, my Dad. A Perfect Manhattan man, to be more exact—one made with both sweet and dry vermouth. I lived with him in his golden years, and the rumble of ice as he grabbed for it in the freezer, the way the bourbon and vermouth bottles clinked as first one, then another, was raised and poured into the waiting Old Fashioned glass (no jigger needed), was a kind of music at the end of the day. And whenever I heard it, I’d shut down the computer and whip up my own drink of choice, a Martini.
As fond as he was of his Manhattans, Dad never looked askance at a Martini if someone was ready to man the shaker. My version—three to one, Boodles and Noilly Prat—may have been the only time he enjoyed gin, but enjoy it he did, especially when there was a dividend—a smidge left in the shaker—to polish off.
Great word, dividend. It’s tough to tell exactly when it entered the cocktailing vocabulary. Drinking authority David Wondrich—author of five books and currently editor of the Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails—points to an early reference in a 1938 issue of The American Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement with a noirish slant. As some Park Avenue swells escape the summer heat in a round of Martinis, one fellow yells out, “Dividend?”
Wondrich has also unearthed 1955 ad for a Greenwich, Conn., steak house that trumpets, “Our cocktails always declare a dividend.” There, he notes, “It’s a case of the drinks being made extra-large and served in a carafe, from which you pour a drink plus its dividend.”
No matter what its source, it’s an old-school locution, more likely to be heard from octogenarians than contemporary cocktail fans. About 15 years ago, The New Yorker ran a piece on then 88-year-old press agent Gene Weber, who counted Buddy Hackett, Sarah Vaughan, and Joe Namath among his clients. At one point, Weber—he too a Manhattan fan—tells the writer that, “Sometimes I take a dividend, but it’s never more than two and a half cocktails. I’m a temperance guy.” Of course, more than one dividend is a whole second drink. But you get the idea.