Cocktail of the day: The Negroni

This one is a testament to conquering fear. Fear no gin! Fear no sweet vermouth! Fear no Campari!

I have at various times feared all of these ingredients, and have since made great progress. I still can’t drink a classic, traditional gin martini (although I’m working on it), but there are now myriad gin cocktails that I absolutely adore. My former dislike of vermouth has been abating, due to my love for Manhattans (when properly made) and other cocktails in which a modicum of vermouth lends great spiciness and complexity. And Campari … well, so far I can’t do it on the rocks like some hardy Italians can, and a Campari and soda is still a wee bit bitter for me. If it’s balanced with something sweet, though, even just a touch, it’s truly amazing stuff.

Given my previous fears, a Negroni was one cocktail I just wasn’t going to attempt. I was afraid of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, and here’s a drink that’s made with all three. Zoinks. Even as I made my progress and thought to myself, “Gee, y’know, one of these days I oughta just try one,” I never quite got around to it.

Chance intervened. Sunday evening I was having drinks with my friends Gregg and Michael at the Traxx Bar, located in L.A.’s fabulous 1939 Art Deco masterpiece, Union Station, right across from its parent restaurant of the same name. The bartender was cheerful and friendly, although fortunately I had my crop with me; she attempted to serve my Manhattan on the rocks, and with no bitters! That’s one of those drinks that is always served up, unless the customer asks specifically for it on the rocks. Then I watched her make the drink (which I always do now, so I can shout a warning before he or she tries to do something like squirt soda into my Old Fashioned), and it was just Maker’s Mark and Martini & Rossi, shakeshakeshake.

When I ordered it, I had specifically said, “And don’t be shy with the bitters!” … and she had put none. “Uh, Angostura bitters, please!”, I interjected. She looked at me and said, “Oh, okay … I always leave them out because nobody likes bitters anymore!”

Such utter sacrilege. Coming from a professional bartender! My dear, without bitters it is simply not a Manhattan. It’s just whiskey and vermouth, thank you. The things we cocktailians have to put up with days, sweet sufferin’ JAY-sus … but I digress. The subsequently corrected Manhattan was lovely, thank you, but then Michael ordered a Negroni.

Wham, there it was. Right in front of me. He sipped it and smiled a beatific smile. “Hey, can I have a taste of that?” Sure thing! *sip*

Complex. Spicy. Bitter, although not overly so. The tiniest bit of sweetness to offset that. A perfect aperitif, a drink to wake up your taste buds and shout “Ciao, ragazzo bello! Come stai?”

Bene, grazie!


1 ounce gin.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 ounce Campari.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with half an orange wheel, or a cherry if you don’t have any oranges.

As usual, if you’re in the Long Island Iced Tea or Sex on the Beach crowd, don’t bother with this; you’ve got a long way to go. If you drink “Appletinis” made with that vile Borg-green Pucker crap, ditto. If you have a palate and you’re adventurous and want to try something that may surprise you, give this one a shot next time you go out to a decent bar. Paul Harrington says you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it; I’m hoping you’ll love it.

You can mess with the proportions as well. Some people like a little bit more gin, on the order of an ounce. We’ve become quite fond of the Cinnabar Negroni, in which the Campari is doubled and a dash of orange bitters is added. To keep the cocktail from being too large, we usually make it with 1-1/2 ounces Campari and 3/4 ounce each of gin and sweet vermouth.