Florence isn’t really known for its cocktails, and in a city surrounded by world-class vineyards, why should it? But there is one very classy cocktail that Florence can claim as its own: the Negroni.
Made of equal parts of gin, Vermouth and unmistakable, cherry-red coloured Campari, this aperitif is traditionally accompanied by lots of ice and a garnish of orange peel, all served in a tumbler. It one of the standard Florentine favourites, along with a couple of classic Northern Italian cocktails that have infiltrated literally every Tuscan bar: the Americano (Campari, Vermouth and soda water) and the Venetian spritz (Aperol, soda and Prosecco).
The ruby-red, bittersweet Negroni, a tad stronger than your regular aperitif, is not for the faint-hearted. It’s that bitter, almost cough-syrup-like Campari that gives this drink its irresistibly mouth-watering quality, and in fact it is precisely this attribute that makes it the perfect aperitif. your mouth waters, stimulating your appetite and getting your digestive system prepped up for dinner.
The word aperitivo or aperitif itself comes from the latin word meaning “to open” and in Italian you still describe the effect of something appetizing, like a waft of garlic cooking in butter or cake baking in the oven, as something that literally “opens your stomach.” That’s the whole idea of the aperitivo in Italy, a little something to encourage you to feel hungry so you can fully enjoy your upcoming meal.
Negroni was invented in 1919, so the story goes. Count Camillo Negroni had just come back to Florence after a trip to London and asked the bartender at what is now known as Caffe Giacosa to stiffen his Americano with gin instead of soda water. And just like that, the Negroni was born. So why it is not simply called an Americano with gin? Actually, customers initially began asking for an “Americano, the way Count Negroni has it” and as its popularity grew, this was simply shortened to “Negroni”.
James Bond drank it when he wasn’t ordering martinis, and when Orson Welles tried his first Negroni in 1947 he observed, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
There are even several variations of the Negroni – a favourite is the “Negroni sbagliato”, which means a Negroni “gone wrong”, where Prosecco replaces the gin, or a “Negroski”, with vodka instead of the gin, something many consider sacrilegious. Either way, it’s a serious cocktail, just the right thing to get you going before dinner and a great evening out.
The bar where the aperitif was supposedly first invented is still in the same place and now belongs to designer Roberto Cavalli, whose stylish fashion store is attached. Leather couches, marble floors and black and white photographs of beautiful people wearing his creations are just distractions as to why you really should come here. This is still one of the classic places in Florence to order a well-made Negroni, perched at the bar just like the Count.
Emiko Davie’s Website: www.emikodavies.com
Follow Emiko on Twitter: @emikodavies