There are very few cocktails that make a statement quite like the Negroni. The bittersweet three-ingredient affair is best served in a short tumbler backlit by a flickering candle on a wooden bar in dark place where everyone sits alone and seems like they are harboring a secret they’d die—or kill—for.
It’s deep amber hue screams seduction. Just ordering one makes you feel delightfully naughty.
Despite the allure, the drink can be a bitter pill to swallow. The first time I tried one I couldn’t unsquint my eyes or unfurl my pursed lips for about an hour. It takes three tries to get used to the bitter taste of straight Campari, the Italian saying goes. It only takes a second drink to get used to the Negroni, in part because it’s so strong.
Negroni aficionados like Elizabeth Minchilli, an American food writer in Rome whose latest book Eating My Way Through Italy is a tried-and-tested bible of the cult of Italian cuisine, says the drink epitomizes what it is to be Italian. “Besides just liking the taste, for me, a Negroni sums up all the contradictions and feelings that are so Italian,” she told me. “Sweet yet bitter, satisfying yet stimulating. Also, its charms sneak up on you slowly then kind of sweep you off your feet while whacking you over the head.”
An added bonus of drinking a Negroni is that it can actually help a good cause. More than 8,000 bars and pubs across the world are taking part in an annual charitable event aptly named Negroni Week. The 2018 edition kicks off on Monday and for seven days the participating establishments will donate profits from all Negronis sales to the local charity of their choice. The campaign, launched by Campari, started with just 120 bars five years ago and has rapidly grown in popularity.
The Negroni may be a quintessential Italian drink, but the Unites States can take partial credit for its very existence. In 1919, an eccentric British-Italian Count by the name of Guglielmo Negroni saddled up to the Casoni Bar, now the Giacosa, a few steps from the Duomo in Florence. Back then it was famous for its wildly popular post-World War II Americano, which, according to the Daily Beast’s senior drinks columnist David Wondrich, was created in America and adopted by Italian bartenders.
At any rate, Count Negroni supposedly thought the Americano, comprised of sweet Italian Vermouth, Campari and soda water, was weak, so he asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to swap the soda water for gin. For some time, the drink was called the “Americano of Count Negroni” until logic prevailed and it became, quite simply, the Negroni.
It wasn’t long after that the Negroni became synonymous with la dolce vita—the period of sophisticated decadence at the height of the Italian cinematic boom and the advent of paparazzi and other sinful pleasures.
Everyone who worked with the so-called Hollywood on the Tiber drank Negronis and looked fabulous doing so. The drink was so popular that in Ian Fleming’s 1953 For Your Eyes Only short story collection, James Bond even ordered one instead of his famous shaken, not stirred Martini at a bar in Rome while meeting a Russian spy. One shudders to think how glorious life could be if the Negroni had made the final cut in the film version.
Now, at least in Italy, the Negroni has largely given way to fancier drinks. “We just haven’t seen a real interest in Negroni cocktails since about 1978,” says the portly barista everyone calls Vittorio at the bar Vanni in Prati. “It’s an old-fashioned drink and now people prefer a Spritz or Mojito. But every now and then you get a request. It’s usually a man, often in a hat and linen suit, who comes to order one and you just serve it up. No questions asked.”
- 1 oz Gin
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, preferably Italian
- 1 oz Campari
- Garnish: 1 fresh orange peel
- Glass: Rocks
Add all three ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange peel.