Since the title of this blog is "elixir vitae", here's a vital elixir for anyone with a decent bar: Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur.
Luxardo is an intensely concentrated liqueur from the Maraschino (Marasca) cherry, and it is a delight of pure sour cherry flavor. If you don't have it in your home bar, you should. And if you see it on a professional bar, that's a pretty reliable sign that you're dealing with a knowledgeable mixologist who knows what it takes to make a good cocktail.
Luxardo's been around....oh, forever...and it's pretty recognizable with its traditional green bottle and white straw cladding, and any good retailer should have it on hand. There are no substitutes (and no, Virginia, maraschino cherry jar juice won't do---too sweet).
It is amazingly mixable, and suits quite a range of spirits. You'll be surprised, once you get it on your bar, how many drinks you'll be using it for. One word of caution though: Luxardo is intensely flavored, and a little goes a very long way; use discretion initially until you get used to it. Sometimes a mere drop will suffice.
There's the classic Aviation cocktail, naught more than gin, lemon juice and a splash of Luxardo (and it looks fantastic in a martini glass with the Luxardo gently plopped in to settle to the bottom of the glass for a colorful accent).
Another cocktail I found (courtesy of Martin Miller's Gin) is what they call the Tuscan Sunset. Caution: it is for true lovers of bitters (Me!! Me!!!) and may be a bit much for the lovers of sweet drinks. It's a combination of gin, Carpano Antico, Luxardo, lime juice, Peychaud's bitters, and Fever Tree Ginger Ale. Colorful, delicious, aromatic, and stimulating to the palate!
But one of my more customary uses of Luxardo is in a variation on the classic Manhattan. Make a Manhattan in the classic mode, shaking rye or rye-heavy whiskey, bitters and vermouth with ice and straining into a martini glass, then simply add a drop or two of Luxardo when you drop the cherry in. Some people cheat a little and marinate their cherries in Luxardo. Whatever. It makes an incredibly good Manhattan.
So...if you don't have this, get it. Please. I'll expect to see it on your bar the next time I'm over.