The history of drinks is often a bit fuzzy on the details – everyone’s too busy having a good time to remember the specifics. But if the hype is to be believed, 2019 marks 100 years since Count Camillo Negroni walked into Caffè Casoni in Florence and ordered the bartender to mix him an aperitivo made of equal parts Campari, red vermouth and gin. Apparently no one had ever done this before – and so the Negroni was born.
I love a Negroni. So, several years back, I made a pilgrimage to Caffè Casoni, only to find it had changed hands and become Caffè Giacosa – a rather soulless place full of ladies with huge blowdries and tiny dogs. That’s now been replaced by Caffè Lietta, a bar I cannot vouch for. But I can recommend two bars that do excellent Negronis on either side of the Atlantic.
The first is Vermuteria in King’s Cross. Squeezed into a rather gloomy corner of Coal Drops Yard, this bustling café-bar boasts an enormous selection of vermouths and bitters. I had a beautiful golden Negroni made with gin from the East London Liquor Company, Contratto white vermouth and Kina L’Aéro d’Or – an esoteric golden bitter from Switzerland. Vermuteria also does a classic Negroni using its house-made vermouth. If you have time before your Eurostar, I highly suggest an aperitivo here – sit at the bar so you can admire the vintage bottles up close, and order some of the excellent charcuterie too.
This was also the year that I finally made it to Dante in New York, an Italianate café-bar in Greenwich Village that regularly tops the world’s-best-Negroni lists. Established in 1915, Dante retains an air of old-fashioned elegance, but its drinks – and its hip clientele – are very much of the moment. Sitting at a table outside, we sipped an oddly delicious Unusual Negroni laced with sesame and banana, and a Primavera Negroni freshened with celery and three jade-green drops of nettle tincture. I also eyed up a Negroni Twist with rye whiskey instead of gin, and a Chocolate Negroni laced with chocolate bitters. Dante even does a “Negroni” that’s non-alcoholic.
The Negroni is, as these bars prove, a drink that can be tinkered with endlessly. Yet it’s also very hard to mess up. You can change the gin, the vermouth, or switch the Campari for another bitter (try Rosehip Cup by England’s Sacred Spirits or the ultra-bitter Bruto Americano from California) and it will still taste pretty good. Whether it’s 100 this year, I cannot say. But it’s a cast-iron classic – and that’s certainly something to celebrate.
Alice Lascelles is Fortum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.