How to explain the ever-increasing obsession with the Negroni ... Even Tony Abou-Ganim isn’t sure, and he’s on record as the cocktail’s No. 1 fan.
“It truly is the perfect cocktail, that perfect alliance of three ingredients that together become much more than the sum of the parts,” says the Las Vegas-based mixologist, author and bar consultant. “Ingredients that become soulmates.”
Inspired in 1919 by the Italian Count Camillo Negroni (a real guy!) when he asked his favorite bartender in Florence to toughen up an Americano (Campari herbal liqueur, sweet vermouth and soda water) by switching out soda for gin, how this cocktail has become such an aficionado’s favorite nearly 100 years later is anyone’s guess. The bitter, cloying, deceptively strong mixture is certainly an acquired taste. Even Abou-Ganim admits, “The first time I tasted Campari in the ’80s, I spat it out!” Nevertheless, he included the Negroni on the drink menu of the Italian-themed Bellagio when it opened, as have many other classic cocktail venues since.
And somehow, starting June 1, we’re celebrating the second annual Negroni Week, a multi-city festival that encourages the hundreds of participating bars to donate a portion of drink revenue to the charity of their choice (ranging here from Keep Memory Alive to Abou-Ganim’s own Helen David Relief Fund).
Thanks to the impressive variety of gins now available, as well as Italian vermouths—varied by their herbal recipes from floral to mineral, spicy to sweet—many bars are happy to experiment with the “perfect cocktail,” and, as Abou-Ganim puts it, “Craft it to the mood.”
In touring some of our local participating Negroni Week establishments, I started at Container Park’s tiny but tenacious Oak & Ivy, where bartender Keith Baker argues the Negroni is the perfect cocktail to barrel-age, embracing the current cocktail vogue. His version ($12) is made with Campari, Bulldog Gin and spicy Casa Marteletti vermouth, to withstand the wood’s mellowing, vanillin-infusing forces, re-stirred with ice and given a fresh flamed orange peel.
Nearby at the reinvented Radio City Pizzeria, bar manager Bryant Jane dug deep to combine Maurin blanc vermouth and Salers gentiane with Principe de los Apostoles Gin (made with yerba mate and eucalyptus in Argentina), served over frozen Campari cubes that infuse the drink as they melt creating a notably softer, herbaceous and minty take ($10).
The bartenders at Velveteen Rabbit are admittedly mezcal-obsessed, so they’re switching the gin for El Silencio Espadin and the Campari for Aperol while keeping traditional Carpano Antica vermouth ($12). I jokingly tell co-owner Pam Dylag to call the smoky sweet sipper “La Cuenta Negrita” in my best Ron Burgundy voice.
“It’s always Negroni week for me,” cracks Nectaly Mendoza at Herbs & Rye. He tells me they’ll be offering a “then and now” set of Negronis, one classic using Death’s Door Gin and another new take that’s so secret he won’t reveal any details.
The phrase “Go big or go home” is ringing in my ears as I steer toward the newly refurbed Le Central bar on the Paris casino floor. But like you, I’ll have to wait for the World’s Largest Barrel-Aged Negroni, created here with 96 bottles of Campari, 96 bottles of Bulldog Gin and 96 bottles of Cinzano 1757 in a 53-gallon Wild Turkey barrel before being divvied up in mini-barrels on June 1 to dozens of other Caesars Entertainment bars like Carnaval Court and Guy Fieri’s restaurant, all under the supervision of secret-weapon mixologist Eddie Perales. Caesars is angling to sell enough of these to get Cinzano to match its contribution to Three Square Food Bank.
I think it’s fair to say Count Camillo would be bowled over.
Negroni Week June 1-7, find participating bars at negroniweek.com.