The Joy of Negronis

negroni with lemon wedgeI’ll never forget the first time I was served a Negroni, a few years back. I was sitting at an Italian place here in New Canaan called Cava, on Forest Street, waiting for Mrs. Banks to arrive for dinner. When I asked the waiter for a Negroni on tap, I couldn’t figure out why he looked at me as if I had two heads.

“Eh?,” was all he said. Then he cocked his head the way people sometimes do when they suspect they’re dealing with a moron.

“A Negroni on tap. In a chilled pint glass, if there’s one around.”

He was still shaking his head as he left for the bar. In the fullness of time, I realized I’d conflated my oni’s. What I’d meant to have was a Peroni, the Italian beer that’s a standard at New York Italian restaurants above a certain price point. (I was feeling snappy that day.) What I’d ordered, and later got, was a Negroni. The cocktail. The drink was entirely new to me and, while I wouldn’t say it was a revelation, it sure was good. I’ve had plenty more since. Pour one-third part gin, one-third part Campari, and one-third part sweet vermouth into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice, and garnish with a wedge of lemon. If your first sip tastes like floor polish, you’ve mixed it perfectly. But then wait a moment for the ice to start to melt, and let the gin to go to work. Heaven. After an especially stressful day, use Tanqueray, for added oomph.

For as trendy as Negronis have since become, I can’t say I know many people who actually like them. Everyone I’ve mixed one for personally has been appalled. At a bar here called South End, near the train station, the bartender, Ursula, tells me that only two of her customers order them regularly. At the late, lamented Gates, there were said to be three of us. Oh, well. I must be more of a hipster than I ever imagined.

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