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    Negroni, King of the Cocktails

    By David Landis–

    The Gay Gourmet–

    My initial recollection of the now-popular Negroni cocktail was during my first trip to Italy in the 80s with my dear Uncle Paul and my pal Larry. We were sitting at an outdoor café in Florence’s iconic Piazza della Repubblica during “aperitivo” (Italian, loosely translated, for “happy hour”).

    My uncle ordered the signature Italian drink and I tried it. I thought it tasted like cough syrup.

    Fast forward several decades and it’s now become a sought-after aperitif in America and one of the Gay Gourmet’s favorites. Seeing as how the Negroni is celebrating its 101st birthday this year—and since cocktails are a given when celebrating Pride this month—it seemed a good time to delve deeper into the popularity of this convivial concoction. (Unfortunately, we just missed “Negroni Week,” which was scheduled for June 1–7 this year; due to COVID-19, these celebrations couldn’t take place in California).

    First off: the Negroni is not for everyone. Its unique mixture of bitter and sweet is an acquired taste. But once acquired, I can assure you, it will be on your must-have list.

    How did this cocktail come to be? Let’s first talk about the Negroni’s predecessor, the Americano. According to Wikipedia, “[T]he Americano is an IBA official cocktail composed of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda, garnished with a slice of lemon. The cocktail was first served in creator Gaspare Campari’s bar, Caffè Campari (in Milan), in the 1860s. It is the direct descendant of the ‘Milano-Torino,’ which consisted of Campari, the bitter liqueur from Milan (Milano), and Punt e Mes, the vermouth from Turin (Torino)—but lacked soda water. This drink was itself a descendant of the ‘Torino-Milano,’ a concoction consisting of equal parts Campari and Amaro Cora.”

    The Negroni, on the other hand “was first mixed in Florence, Italy, in 1919, at Caffè Casoni (formerly Caffè Giacosa),” continues the Wikipedia post. “Count Camillo Negroni concocted it by asking the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin rather than the normal soda water. The bartender also added an orange garnish rather than the typical lemon garnish of the Americano to signify that it was a different drink. After the success of the cocktail, the Negroni family founded Negroni Distillerie in Treviso, Italy, and produced a ready-made version of the drink, sold as Antico Negroni 1919.”

    Orson Welles famously said of the Negroni, “The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

    In researching this article, The Gay Gourmet found @TheNegroniKing, an influencer of note on Instagram. With nearly 4,000 followers worldwide, we decided to get his take on this delectable drink. Here are some of his thoughts:

    “Yes, I’m @TheNegroniKing, but my real name is James Hall and I live in London. I didn’t start out in the drinks industry. But I have always been interested in hospitality and cocktails from a young age, when a Sicilian family friend first introduced me to Italian culture. I would experiment with making cocktails at home as a teenager. (Gay Gourmet’s note: We’re guessing laws are different in Europe than here!) [When I started going out], I would order a Negroni wherever I went. My first trip to Italy several years ago grew my love of the Italian culture further and the Negroni King was born.”

    “The secret to the perfect Negroni,” says Hall, “is nice and chilled fresh vermouth and dilution. When stirring with ice (never shaken!), you don’t want to over dilute the drink by stirring too long, nor do you want to use too little ice as this would result in a very strong unbalanced drink. (Though some people like their drinks strong, I know!) I’m always experimenting, but one of my go-to favorite recipes would be Tanqueray 10, Martini Rubino Special Riserva, and Campari. Or if I want exclusively Italian ingredients, I like Ondina gin paired with Cocchi Di Torino and Campari. I personally prefer my Negroni on the rocks. I do like a giant cube but also love two or three large cubes with an orange slice. In regards to the orange, it depends on whatever is in season. I love blood oranges, but they are quite hard to find in London! I also try to get only unwaxed oranges.”

    Hall concludes: “For me, the Negroni is King. I am merely his loyal servant and ambassador.”

    Where to Find a Good Negroni in San Francisco

    Here are some of my favorites, but due to COVID-19, please check and see if they’re open and serving. Some also have “to-go” cocktails—but stay six feet away!

    Castro:
    Twin Peaks: http://www.twinpeakstavern.com/
    Beaux: https://www.beauxsf.com/

    Pacific Heights:
    Florio: https://www.floriosf.com/

    The Richmond:
    Violet’s: https://www.violets-sf.com/

    Hayes Valley:
    Anina: https://www.aninasf.com/
    Zuni Café: http://zunicafe.com/
    Absinthe: http://absinthe.com/

    Downtown:
    Local Edition: https://www.localeditionsf.com/

    Fisherman’s Wharf:
    Scoma’s (their Negroni is infused with fresh strawberry): https://scomas.com/

    North Beach:
    Original Joe’s: https://originaljoes.com/
    Comstock Saloon: https://comstocksaloon.com/

    My Personal Favorite Negroni Recipe

    The Gay Gourmet continues to perfect his own Negroni recipe at home. Here’s my current personal favorite, with a nod to my friend Glenn, who suggests blood oranges:

    The Gay Gourmet’s Not-So-Classic Negroni
    1 shot Loch & Union gin (from Napa Valley)
    A little more than a shot of Campari
    A little less than a shot of Cinzano red vermouth
    A splash of blood orange juice (available at Mollie Stone’s in the refrigerated case)
    Garnish with a slice of orange—blood orange, if available

    Stir with ice, strain, and serve “up” in a deco martini glass.David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: david@landispr.com or visit him online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

    Published on June 25, 2020