Negroni, how do I love thee? Let me Count the ways

If you visit Sydney, you need to know this.

If you live in Sydney, you need to be reminded of this.

Just beside the northern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a public swimming pool
2014-10-23 10.46.17that offers some of the best – and most peaceful – views of the Harbour and the Opera House. It’s heated, salty instead of chloriny and is rarely as busy as it deserves to be. With a Negroni-buzz, it is paradise.

But they have no bar.

Upstairs, over-looking the pool and with even better views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, is a restaurant that could conceivably claim to be one of the inspirations behind this blog and to which my thoughts return as I contemplate next week’s Negroni Week.

Who knew the Julian calendar was packed full of so many cocktaily days we need to mark? 2016-02-29 13.14.30.jpgGreat, isn’t it?

But it is Negroni Week that has brought forward the post on the favourite cocktail of Muddler Laura Dalrymple of Sydney providore Feather and Bone (if you care about where your food comes from, check out their website HERE and if you have a cocktail request, let me know).

Aqua Dining has sadly changed their signature Negroni offering (the one with the blood orange juice ice ball), but I will continue to reflect affectionately on it and will keep asking for it until they get sick of me. You always remember your first.

Ask most people what’s in their Negroni – the cocktail Conde Nast magazine has described as being this decade’s response to the Cosmopolitan – and they’ll likely list gin first. And while gin is one of the three ingredients of a Negroni – the others being, in equal parts, Campari and Vermouth – it is perhaps more historically correct to call it a Campari cocktail. Or even a Vermouth cocktail.

2016-05-06 20.24.52See, back in the early 1900s, the Negroni’s precursor was the Americano. The Americano contains Campari, Vermouth and soda water (like the one on the left from Gardel’s Bar).

Legend has it, a bloke with the fabulous handle of Count Camillo Negroni sauntered up to the bar at Caffe Casoni in Florence and asked the bartender to beef up his Americano.

Camillo had just returned from a stint in the wild west of the USA where he acquired a taste for strong liquor as he plied his skills as a rodeo clown (bet you didn’t see that one coming). Fast forward to Florence in February (I don’t know if it was February but the alliteration was too tempting) and Camillo needed a real belt.

So bartender (most reports name him as Fosco Scarselli but the Campari website says it was Luca Picchi) replaced the soda water with gin and switched out the lemon twist for orange. Hey presto, a star is born.

So perhaps it is a gin cocktail since that’s what changed and since that’s what really lifts the Americano, but Campari has pretty well stamped a claim on it – including launching Negroni Week with Imbibe Magazine in 2013.

Celebrated English writer and drinker Kingsley Amis wrote of the Negroni that “it has the power, rare with drinks and indeed with anything else, of cheering you up”.

Negroni Week should make it doubly so.

The basic thrust of Negroni Week is that you go to a participating bar (find your nearest HERE), order a Negroni and a $1 from each goes to charity.

It is at this point in most posts that I make you watch an 80s movie. I’ve struggled to find a lot of references to the Negroni in movies, primarily because it isn’t an American cocktail.

220px-roman_springA notable exception is the The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, a 1961 offering based on Tennessee Williams’ book of the same name from 1950 (and a 2003 telemovie remake).

The basic themes of this movie are;

  • Italians are evil and will corrupt Americans
  • Rome makes women lose their better judgement

The 1961 version stars Vivien Leigh in one of her last movie roles, and Warren Beatty in one of his first. After this, I think old Wazza was channeled into roles that called for a little less in the exotic accent department and more of the just being Warren. Quite right.

Vivien plays Karen Stone, an actress who is too old to play the roles she has become famous for (isn’t it marvellous how consistent Hollywood is? This book was written more than 60 years ago but we still let men in their 70s be sex symbols while we value female actors over 40 as much as a fungal nail infection. Amy Schumer deals with it beautifully below – white spiders people).

Anyway, Old Lady Stone’s husband dies suddenly and she is in Rome when handsome gigolo Paolo (Warren) is paid to seduce her 48 year old near-corpse. Paolo’s paycheck comes from the conniving Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales, played by scene-stealer Lotte Lenya.

THIS LINK shows a short clip (4 mins) from the movie where you can see Lenya at her fabulous best AND see Wok’s Italian’s accent at its fabulous best.

Lotte also played the sadistic Colonel Rosa Klebb in 1963’s From Russia with Love. Klebb wasrosa_klebb_by_lotte_lenya the first female villain in a Bond movie (there wasn’t another until 1999’s The World is Not Enough – female henchmen, but not a villain) and has inspired many other on-screen villains, including Mindy Lee Sterling’s Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers series.220px-frau_farbissina_apimom

Mrs Stone’s corruption is symbolically represented with her move from drinking Americanos to Negronis in the movie. A scarlet woman with a scarlet drink.

campari_no_gocce_100cl_new_low_rgb_2Until 2006, the bright red of the Campari came from carmine – crushed up cochineal insects. Those who have made a study of such things will tell you the  distinctive bitter orange taste did change – not for the better – when they replaced the carmine with artificial colouring, but it is still a fine liqueur and has provided a solution to what I call TPP.

The Pub Problem.

TPP started for me when I really threw myself into the field research component of this blog.

I love pubs, but most do not do either cocktails or wine particularly well.

Campari offers a solution. There is usually a bottle behind the bar and mixed with soda water or orange juice, makes for an aperitif that even an 18 year old can usually manage to present well.

There is a Milanese theory that you need to drink Campari three times before starting to like it and I would suggest that it needs the sweetness of the vermouth or orange juice to guide the first-timer.

At home though, a Negroni is easy to make, and easy to make well.2016-05-29 17.12.37

The recipe calls for equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth over ice with a twist of orange (even though we used a slice of orange here).

Start there and adjust your recipe to your taste.

Apparently there is a Vodka Negroni, but for mine, I would stick with the less alcoholic Americano since the vodka won’t do the job for the taste of the cocktail the way the gin does.

If you don’t like the gin, there’s also a cocktail called the Boulevardier which substitutes whiskey (almost always bourbon) for the gin.

But the one thing you can’t substitute is the Campari.

And on that, an 80s movie.

The Campari website has examples of their advertising campaigns since it was invented in 1860. Not only did they have likes of David Niven and Humphrey Bogart, but another great campaign. With Kelly Le Brock.

Campari’s webmaster allowed this comment through “During the eighties, a period of great economic and cultural growth” which says to me that the 1980s were different in Italy than they were in Brisbane.

220px-womaninredposterThe link is obviously the movie “Woman in Red” – another example of how brilliant Hollywood has been to women.

Kelly Le Brock’s skirt blows up, causing Gene Wilder’s Teddy Pierce to believe he is in love with her. Man sees woman’s underpants, man loses his mind.

Doesn’t reflect well on anyone but on the other hand, does have both Gene Wilder and  Gilda Radner, the comic who inspired most of today’s biggest female stars of comedy before her death from ovarian cancer at age 42.

So this weekend, stay in and turn your hand to Negroni making as you watch Woman in Red.

Next week though, head out to a bar listed HERE and see how the professionals compare.

And take photos of both – I want to see them.



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