I have often scorned the maraschino cherry, that candied, heavily died, artificial monstrosity that sits at the bottom of Manhattans or on the top of ice cream sundaes. Surely, in a world of slow food and bar chefs, we can come up with something that tastes better than a ball of plastic and looks less scary than the typical maraschino.
Finally, my concerns have been addressed by Luxardo, the Italian drinks company that makes wonderful liqueurs. Luxardo Marasche Marasca Cherries are real, candied cherries marinated in cherry syrup. They have a beautiful, dark red color and taste sweet and cherry-like (as opposed to tasting like plastic). Unlike traditional maraschinos, they are immediately recognizable as cherries, both in appearance and taste, and quite good cherries at that.
Putting a Luxardo cherry in a Manhattan turns the garnish from a throwaway into a distinct part of the drink. It absorbs some of the flavor and leaves a bit of cherry in your last sip. Finally, I feel like I get the cocktail cherry.
Luxardo cherries are available from Hi-Time Wine for $15.99 for a small jar (360 grams). They are slightly more expensive on Amazon ($17.95), but there, you can also buy a twelve pound can for $148.50, if you really go through those cherries.