Photo by Wes Tarca
Photo by Wes Tarca
A classic Negroni at New York’s Dear Irving on Hudson bar
The Italian cocktail is celebrating its centenary this year—here’s where to find the best ones from New York to Rome, according to 5 cocktail experts.
Bitter, boozy, and glowing with a bold ruby-red hue—it brings on a buzz simply by looking at it. The Negroni has been a classic cocktail stirred and served for a century, but it’s more popular than ever. It’s hard to find a cocktail bar without one on its menu now, and it also has an entire week dedicated to it in June. During Negroni Week (June 24–30, 2019), bars and restaurants offer variations on the classic cocktail to raise money for charities of their choice. This year, over 12,000 venues worldwide are participating; since 2013, Negroni Week has raised over $2 million for charitable causes by donating the proceeds from the sales of these cocktail specials.
Created in 1919 by a bartender at Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy, the three-ingredient cocktail—gin, vermouth, and Campari—now has a stronghold status in bars across the world. The story goes that Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender to strengthen his favorite drink—the Americano, a mix of Campari, vermouth, and soda water—by replacing the soda water with gin, a choice inspired by his recent trip to Britain. Thus the Negroni was born.
Orson Welles gave the Negroni rave reviews in 1947 when he was filming in Rome. “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you,” he said. “They balance each other.” In 1956, the Italian-born elixir was advertised in the New Yorker as “The World Connoisseur’s Cocktail.” It defined la dolce vita (“the sweet life”), Italy’s golden era in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and today the Negroni still exudes the good life: sun-kissed holidays on the sea, savoring life’s little luxuries and moments one drink at a time.
To expand your Negroni repertoire, we asked five cocktail experts which bars serve the best Negroni around the world—from Rome to New York City. Here are their favorites.
Cocktail visionary Gaz Regan literally wrote the book on the Negroni. The author of The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, with Recipes and Lore, Regan has long been the authority on the Negroni even before his days finger-stirring them. (Yes, his signature move was created in an effort to speed up making 20 drinks at once at bartender competitions.)
When he’s on the other side of the bar, Regan’s favorite places to sip a Negroni are two of the world’s most famous cocktail bars: The American Bar at The Savoy in London, the city’s longest surviving cocktail bar that features a live pianist every night, and New York’s PDT (Please Don’t Tell), the hidden speakeasy that’s accessed through a vintage phone booth in Crif Dogs, an East Village hot dog joint.
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A featured bar expert on Bar Rescue, a Paramount Network TV series, and formerly a “cocktail engineer” at Soho House West Hollywood, Mia Mastroianni recommends the bar that is known for messing it all up. Bar Basso in Milan is famous for its Negroni Sbagliato (“messed up” or “mistaken”) that was a result of a busy bartender accidentally using sparkling wine instead of gin in a Negroni. “Bar Basso is utterly charming and oozing with tradition—most notably the old Italian waiters serving up authentic aperitivo bites and Negroni Sbagliato the size of my face,” Mastroianni says.
Closer to home, Mastroianni loves to order a Negroni at Melrose Umbrella Co. in Los Angeles because it’s where she’s likely to run into friends. “That’s how I want to feel when I’m drinking a Negroni—like I’m surrounded by family.” The celebrity bartender’s latest twist on the Negroni? For DIY cocktail club Shaker & Spoon’s June Negroni-themed subscription box, Mastroianni created a Turin-meets-the-tropics Danger Juice that kicks up the heat by mixing Campari and gin with pineapple and lemon juice, serrano chili syrup, and a dash of Aztec Chocolate bitters.
Meaghan Dorman, bartender-proprietor behind New York City’s swanky cocktail lounges Raines Law Room, The Bennett, and Dear Irving, has concocted some unique riffs on the Negroni. “As bartenders, our goal when creating a drink is to make it taste like more than the sum of its parts,” she says. “A Negroni is 1+1+1 but the result is a dynamic mix, an exercise in how spirit, plus sweet and bitter can balance and play off each other.” This year Dorman created the Negroni Isle for Dear Irving on Hudson. Inspired by the high-energy of NYC bartenders and their love of caffeine, it’s a blend of Campari, rum, sweet vermouth, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, cold brew coffee, and coconut cream with an orange twist and a dusting of chocolate.
Dorman’s favorite after-shift stop for a Negroni is NYC’s Attaboy, and she says she’s a fan of the creative riffs at Dante. But her favorite place in the world to sip a Negroni is 1862 Dry Bar in Madrid: “In the early evening when all the windows are open it’s dreamy.”
One of the world’s leading bartenders and a former president of the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild, Salvatore Calabrese has been making cocktails for more than 40 years at top hotels and exclusive cocktail bars. Currently the Drinks Maestro at The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London, Calabrese loves to use centuries-old spirits in his cocktails. One of his favorite twists on the classic Negroni is his vintage version that uses a 1970s Campari. “The moment that you open the bottle, you start to pick up the intense aroma and historic notes,” Calabrese says. “It’s not just a drink, it’s a piece of history; you are in charge of maintaining a legacy.”
Calabrese’s favorite place to sip a Negroni outside of his own bar is at Matinée Cocktail Bar on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where he grew up and first learned how to make the classic cocktail as a young man. “A Negroni always tastes better beside the sea,” he says.
Katie Parla is an authority on all things Italian, especially when it comes to what to eat and drink. She’s written, edited, or contributed to over 30 books on Italy, including her latest cookbook, Food of the Italian South. “I think the world loves the Negroni so much because it’s quintessentially Italian, bold in color and its bitterness is balanced with gin’s botanicals and vermouth’s spiced notes,” says Parla. She loves to sip a Negroni at Jerry Thomas Project or Stravinskij Bar in Rome, which she calls home.
Parla also recommends when in Rome to do as the Romans do: Whet your appetite with apertivi to soak up the high-alcohol cocktail: “Most places in Italy (Jerry Thomas Project excluded) serve Negroni and other cocktails with an array of savory snacks: crudités, little puff pastry pizzas, potato chips, and the like. Negroni are way higher in alcohol that other aperitivi so these little bites are very necessary.” Think American happy hour, but better.
Our cocktail experts weighed in on the best of the best—but the Negroni is constantly being reimagined. Here are the most innovative twists on the Negroni for la dolce vita, 2019 style.
Ever tried an Indian-inspired Negroni? We didn’t think so. Chetan Gangan of NYC’s East Village BAAR BAAR, who recently joined the restaurant from Mumbai, created a Chai Negroni that infuses notes of ginger, cardamom, and tea powder into a classic Negroni and tops it off with a Bombay Khari (puff pastry).
Perhaps you’re indulging in a Negroni a little early . . . say with brunch? Chris Amirault of Otium in Los Angeles created the Everything Is Everything Negroni. The mixologist loves to incorporate salinity into his Negroni, and the everything bagel spice that rims the cocktail is sourced from his local farmers’ market in LA.
Mixologist Camille Cavan is creating a Sage Negroni at Quaintrelle in Portland, Oregon, that stirs it up with a raspberry reduction and sage tincture with side of fried sage for snacking.
Negroni riffs don’t need to be so highbrow. A Negroni Sbagliato at Nashville’s Henley keeps Campari in the mix, but substitutes Lustau Vermut Rojo (sherry) for the gin and tops it off with “The Champagne of Beers,” all-American Miller High Life.
Or how about a Negroni that mixes all your favorite spirits from around in the world? Fort Lauderdale’s ETARU’s Tokyo Lowrider combines smoky mezcal, plum sake, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Around the world in one Negroni.
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