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The Negroni Offers Solace in Troubled Times

In recent months, amid the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, instead of browsing the aisles of Brooklyn Wine Exchange and chatting up the staff for recommendations, I’ve stocked up on half-bottles of vermouth via prepaid curbside pickup with a quick wave and a muffled behind-a-cloth-mask hello. I picked up a mixed case of Italian whites, Calabrian chilies, and salumi at Popina, a small restaurant in my neighborhood that transformed itself into a bottle shop and provisions outpost. And through takeaway cocktail service, I got to see some of my favorite familiar faces (from a safe distance) behind the bar. I stopped by Grand Army for boilermakers and a tropical punch, also swinging by the makeshift take-out window at Leyenda for a frozen Margarita served in a paper coffee cup alongside chips and salsa.

While a welcome relief, none of these experiences can replicate the nostalgic buzz of being inside any of these bars during service on a busy Thursday night, but it has offered a spark of hope to an eventual return to some sense of normalcy.

And while stay-at- home orders have had many of us perfecting our sourdough starters, working on puzzles, and making far too many loaves of banana bread, the return to cocktail hour has served as a mile-marker for the end of yet another day in a period when each day blurred together and measures of time were fluid suggestions rather than clear demarcations on a calendar.

Without the ability to meet for a drink after work, we’ve put our decorative home bar carts into regular service, and we’ve returned to those comforting, familiar classics. A Martini or a Manhattan comes replete with memories of drinking in the wild at steakhouses, hotel bars, and cozy cocktail dens—and for me, it’s the transportive power of the Negroni that offers the ultimate make-at-home ease and comfort, while summoning a sense of al fresco freedom.

The Negroni’s Italian heritage instantly evokes la dolce vita, but its spirited backbone elevates it from the spritzy aperitivo category. It’s an adult drink—bittersweet, herbaceous, and botanical. Something I can order without hesitation at most bars, and one I know I can always quickly stir up for friends stopping by before heading out to dinner, or make for an impromptu nightcap.

This year, the Negroni has been at my side through countless virtual happy hours, and with each sip I can’t help but think about those Negronis of days and nights past, and where I was when I drank them. Whether it’s the first one I had at the Camparino in Galleria in Milan, or the many iterations I’ve sipped at Dante in New York’s West Village, of the countless Negronis I’ve ordered out, I’ve only ever sent back one (served at a contemporary Italian restaurant), but right now I’d reverse that decision just to be able to be sitting in the buzz of a busy restaurant, sharing bowls of pasta and drinking with friends.

Some of our favorite bars are now, sadly, gone forever, casualties of the pernicious virus. I know I will never again take a casual drink at a bar for granted. But through it all, the Negroni’s signature red glow illuminates like a beacon, stirring memories from the past and, hopefully, thoughts of better days ahead.

Recipes Mentioned in This Article

classic negroni recipe

Classic Negroni Recipe

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Manhattan Bourbon Heritage Month

Manhattan And A ½

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