Inka Kukkamaki holding a Negroni

Around Italy in 8 Delectable Negronis with Inka Kukkamaki

The Negroni has become a mainstream cocktail enjoyed by many and served in trendy bars across the globe, yet it is a cocktail that continues to split opinions. It is no wonder that in colour psychology, red provokes the strongest emotions of any colour. Negroni really is the Marmite of the cocktail world. 

Since I got the taste for this brightly-coloured bitter cocktail, made with equal parts of Campari, Sweet Vermouth and Gin, I have been looking for the best Negroni. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Italy and have, therefore, enjoyed my fair share of Negronis.

The Birth of the Negroni

There is a bit of a squabble around the details of who indeed invented the Negroni, but many accept that it took place in 1919 in Florence. It is said the cocktail was born when Count Camillo Negroni wanted to make his usual drink of choice (the Americano) a bit punchier by replacing the soda with gin. After this, everyone began to order the ‘Count Negroni’ at Caffè Casoni.

Caffè Casoni became Caffè Giacosa by Roberto Cavalli, but unfortunately after years of struggle, it finally closed its doors. Luckily for us, Caffè Giacosa has recently reopened its doors just around the corner from its original location, and as it is still seen as the birthplace of Negroni, I had to go to investigate. Below, find a list of where that journey took me, discovering several other Negronis along the way:

1. Caffè Giacosa – Florence

Unfortunately, their classic Giacosa Negroni wasn’t quite worth the €15, but if you want to visit for the historic aspect, I recommend the Negroni Shakerato (served straight up), which really was perfection, made with VII Hills Italian Dry Gin, Carpano Antica Formula and Campari. 

VII Hills Gin is designed for the perfect Negroni, and it is made using the most wonderful botanicals: pomegranate, chamomile, celery, artichoke, rosehip, and blood orange. And the slightly higher ABV (43%) helps bring out these unique flavours. Anyone who is a seasoned Negroni sipper knows Carpano Antica Formula has a way of delivering those sweet and fruity flavours louder than most other vermouths, and it works really well in this Shakerato. 

Icing on the top, the cocktails come with a side of pickled onions, olives and salted almonds. You really must appreciate Italians and their snack pairings. 

2. La Ménagère – Florence

Negroni journey

La Ménagère is a venue that you really must visit for the décor alone. The building is stunning, with flowers, colourful glassware, and an English library-style seating area. The cocktails are great, just don’t make the mistake of drinking a coffee here. I usually only visit La Ménagère for a classic cocktail like a gin Martini or a Negroni because you know what you’ll get, and you can be sure you’ll enjoy it. 

Here, the Negroni is made with Bombay Sapphire, Martini bitter and Martini Rubino vermouth. It’s a recipe that delivers every time. Martini Rubino adds a fruity and full-bodied flavour to the cocktail, which really gives the cocktail another dimension. So much so that now it’s become a staple in Negronis I make at home. 

Also interesting: List of the 25 Best Gin cocktails & drinks recipes

3. Oggi Pizza & Restaurant – Florence

Negroni journey

Don’t be fooled by the name, the cocktail bar area is a great place to visit for a Negroni even without staying for a pizza. The décor is well done and the Negronis are fun. 

The Negroni here is made with Campari, Punt e Mes and Beefeater 24. Punt e Mes is quite bitter and has a very particular flavour. It is not normally my favourite for Negroni, but I did find this serve very enjoyable. Maybe because it was presented in a fun way so I couldn’t help but give it some extra marks just for that. 

I was given a glass full of ice with a lovely garnish (a piece of chocolate, orange peel and a blackberry), and a mini skull (!) full of Negroni. They make the cocktail at the time of ordering and strain it in the decanter, it is not pre-batched. Pouring the cocktail over the garnish is part of the sensory experience, so when I sipped the Negroni, I could get aromas of dark chocolate and blackberry, and it all just made sense.

4. Blackmarket Hall – Rome

Negroni journey

Monti in Rome is one of my favourite areas in the city to visit. They have some fantastic cocktail bars, including Blackmarket Hall. It is perhaps a bit cave-like and dark at times, but the mixed drinks are great.

When I last visited, they had a Negroni riff called ‘One Night in Florence’. It was made using Malfy Gin Originale, Select Bitter, Sweet Vermouth and Amaro Montenegro, all merged with some cocoa and chilli. The perfect final touch. Cocoa and a little spice work nicely with the cherry and vanilla notes of the amaro.

Also interesting: 28 Vermouth Cocktails – Easy recipes

5. Bar Basso – Milan

Bar Basso was the first bar to introduce an aperitivo in Milan in 1947. Before then, cocktails could only be found in specific lounge bars and luxury hotels. Today it is most famous for the Negroni Sbagliato. Mirko Stocchetto invented the cocktail around 1972 when he used prosecco instead of gin when making a Negroni (sbagliato means mistaken). 

It was a refreshing serve, made with Campari, Martini Rosso and Prosecco, although I’m a sucker for a classic Negroni.

6. Vinarkia della Pavona – Lucca

Negroni journey

Vinarkia della Pavona in Lucca is possibly the best aperitivo bar in the whole of Tuscany. It is cosy in winter and the outdoor areas are lovely at other times of the year. The front is good for people watching, but there is also a back garden with melon trees.

It is mainly a wine bar, although they have a small, changing cocktail menu which always has delicious options, including a Negroni riff, often an infusion of some sort. I think they may have a thing for cakes, as I’ve tried a banana bread-infused Negroni there and a Negroni Buccellato, which is a sweet(ish) bread made with raisins (sometimes also dried currants) and crushed anise seeds or fennel powder. To create a shiny layer, the cake is glazed with water, sugar and egg. They mix a larger batch of Negroni and infuse it with the cake. 

There is a saying in Lucca ‘Chi viene a Lucca e non mangia il Buccellato è come non ci fosse mai stato.’ which means “Who comes to Lucca and doesn’t eat Buccellato can’t really say that they’ve been there.” I’m sure drinking it as a Negroni form also counts. 

The Negroni classico at Vinarkia is my favourite though. It is made with Beefeater, Cocchi and Campari. This is a solid recipe that works beautifully, with enough bitterness balanced with the juniper-forward gin, and their ice cubes are cut to perfection.

7. Franklin ’33 – Lucca

A person holding a drink in their hand

After a tasty aperitivo at Vinarkia, it’s time to head over to Franklin33 for their Negroni variations. 

The cocktail menu includes Negroni del Presidente (a mix of Martini Bitter Riserva, Punt e Mes, chinotto liqueur and grapefruit bitters), which is bitter and punchy. I prefer it to their Negroni classico, as the flavours are interesting and well-balanced, even if it may sound extra bitter. But my ultimate favourite would be their version of Boulevardier, served up and made with the addition of Johnny Walker Black Label and a touch of absinthe. It is dangerously delicious. It is rich, with balanced sweetness and subtle smoky flavours. Even writing about it makes me want to go back for one. 

At Franklin33, the atmosphere is always great and the music spot-on. It’s a cocktail bar, but I would also visit to sample whisky from their extensive selection.

8. Il Palazzo Experimental – Venice

Negroni journey

While we are on the subject of Negroni variations, Il Palazzo Experimental in Venice is a must. The place feels like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie. Their Negroni dell-Alpino was excellent, although their cocktail menu is ever-changing, so I’m not sure I will ever be able to enjoy this cocktail again. But I am confident they will serve something as tasty or something even better. The cocktail, served straight up, was made with melissa-infused Gin (also known as lemon balm), Green Chartreuse, Braulio Amaro Alpino, Creme de Menthe and Vermouth. 

Where do I even begin with this one. Firstly, I adore herbal flavours and Green Chartreuse really is the king of liqueurs. The Negroni had sweet red fruity notes from the Vermouth, which were interwoven together with grassy green notes and a minty finish. It’s a Negroni riff that is pushing the limits, but in this case, I’m ok with it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed touring the Negroni world in Italy with me. Enjoy!

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