As I’ve sorted back through my huge collection of Giro pics, each time I see a snap of the bitter sweet orange elixir – I’m instantly transported thousands of miles back to that table and moment where my thirst was quenched, and my taste buds tangily tingled.
I have fond memories of this bad boy – enjoyed in full at one of those poseur cafes near the Duomo in Milano after last year’s Giro.
Although somewhat unverifiable, the popular story goes that the drink was invented by a certain Count Negroni at a bar in Florence (Italy), sometime in the 1920’s. It’s a classic Italian cocktail – using Campari and Cinzano (sweet vermouth) as 2/3 of the ingredients, then completed with gin. It’s also not a drink for wimps, given that it’s 100% booze (not counting the ice or orange garnish). But it’ll take both the edge off a rotten day and make a good day even better…
As much as I fancy myself a trailblazer in championing negronis, a quick Google search reveals almost 50,000 links, and some quick reading confirms its popularity. Still, most people and bars I survey don’t know the drink, and even my wife’s Italian brothers (whom I introduced to the drink a couple years back) still call it a ‘negrino’ – but that’s another story.
The recipe is simple – start with equal parts gin, campari, and sweet vermouth, add a squish of fresh orange, serve over rocks – and settle in for a tart, tangy, bitter sweet burst of flavor that never fails to tingle the tip of your tongue all the way to your toes… and back again. At least that’s what it does for me…
Maybe my all time favorite negroni picture – taken in Riva del Garda at the 2007 Giro. If this doesn’t tempt your taste buds…
As much as chronicling the Giro requires stage by stage reporting, each stage and day also is recalled in an entirely new perspective when the measuring stick becomes the negroni itself.
Although I failed to make my quest a daily ritual, due mostly to my unfortunate luck of settling for inadequately stocked bars, (but occasionally finding myself in a situation that could only be served with an ice cold beer), I can recall vividly the events leading up to and surrounding the receipt of my daily reward – each glass has a story to tell as complex and satisfying as the drink itself. This is no ordinary cocktail.
Day 1 – Palermo: In Dire Need
After what seemed like the longest journey of my life to arrive in Italy, only to discover my luggage would be on an even longer journey, I had (after about 30 hours of wake & travel time) settled into a fine looking foccaciaria and was good ‘n ready for some true Italian cooking to help me forget that day. And there’d be no better way to kick things off than with a well earned negroni.
Here’s proof that an ill-poured negroni is friend to no man.
Sadly I met with disappointment. The local barista produced a concoction heavy on the gin and light on everything else. Back it went for a rebuild. Although his second attempt was only marginally better, I was impressed when he actually came to the table to ask if his negroni.v2 was to my liking. In true Italian form (ie: taking responsibility is not one of their strong suits) he insisted his first pour was made with the correct recipe. Regardless, tomorrow is another day…
After stage 5′s finish in Peschici, I was done work by 8 PM and settled into this cafe on the main square to soak in the ambience of the evening ‘passagiata’, and soak up this finely poured negroni.
Day 7 – Pizzo: Walking the Streets
On the evening of stage 3 I pulled into the stage 4 start town of Peschici around 7:30, after a huge day of travel all the way from the stage 2 finish town of Agrigento, to the stage 3 start in Catania, across the Strait of Messina on a ferry and finally to my B&B – only to find no one home. That story got sorted out, but needless to say I was in dire need of a negroni.
The bartender in Pizzo Calabro demo’d a most impressive – and expedient – free pour on this one.
My host for the night recommended his buddy’s trattoria, and since I’d already discovered that not everyone in Italy stocks negroni fixins, I called ahead to assess the state of his bar. Sure enough the owner did not have the required spirits, but he agreed to stay open until at least 10PM so I could get a drink – and he even told me exactly where to get one – at another buddy’s bar just off the main piazza.
My meal was followed by the famous Italian dolce “turtuffo” – gelato coated in chocolate powder, and some kind of local hooch.
I walk into the bar, greeted by the bartender, and one patron, and that really loud, obnoxious Euro-pop. The barkeep free-pours me a negroni in about 4 seconds flat – two bottles in one hand, tops up the ice and serves the drink. Impressive. He even let me take it as l walked back to the restaurant. So here I am, strolling through the streets of Pizzo, with a negroni in my hand. No fuss, no muss.
Day 11 – Roma: Via Veneto
No visit to Rome is complete without a stop to relive “La Dolce Vida” at one of the many cafes and bars along via Veneto – the curvaceous tree lined street made famous in the 1950’s film. Today it’s mostly over touristed and over priced – but that’s Rome. Regardless, it’s still one of the coolest streets to enjoy a negroni. When it comes to eating and drinking in Italy, the locals have the best suggestions, and I was not disappointed by the advice offered from the Albergho Ottocento where I stay.
Pez Rule #38: Negronis taste better in famous locations – like via Veneto in Roma.
Day 14 – Roma: Pantheon
Travelling on any Grand Tour, I always leave a couple of days to unwind at the end of my shift – and soak in the events of the previous days without the stress of tomorrow’s schedule. Rome was a natural exit point for me, and my last night there I went ‘full tourist’ scene and ate at one of the way over priced (even for Rome) cafes adjacent to the Pantheon. You really do pay for the view here, as I sat and just took in the constantly changing scene of people around me – most of them posing at some point for a photos in front of the famous Roman landmark.
The view from my table at the Pantheon was worthy of this most expensive meal I’d ever ordered.
It’s an incredible place, considering the history, and its significance as an international cross roads where people from all over the world come for a look.
The negroni was served tall and with not enough ice, but I loved it nonetheless – there’s always something special about your last negroni on Italian soil…
I’ll leave you with this anecdote. At the 2007 Tour of California, I met a PEZ-Fan whose name I forget, but I think he was from the Chicago area. What I do remember, is that his favorite story of all time was The Perfect Apertivo, my personal announcement of my love for negronis and my suggestions on the best recipe.
I highly recommend the negroni – it’s a cool drink that tastes great – refreshing like nothing else on a hot day. It may be an acquired taste, but some things – you just gotta have.