The end of June spells sweet summertime, but in the bars it’s a time for bitterness, too. Negroni week runs from June 24th to June 30th, with thousands of bars participating nationwide, San Francisco being no exception.
The proceeds from Negroni tabs will directly benefit local charities like the SF Marin Food Bank, so all in all there could be worse reasons to drink. With few other cocktails possessing their own celebratory week, one can’t help but wonder how this bitter little number became such an all-star on any bar menu worth its salt.
According to Italian lore, the Negroni was born a hundred years ago in a bar in Florence called Caffee Casoni. Count Camillo Negroni asked his amico, bartender Forsco Scarselli, to further fortify his favourite cocktail—the Americano—by replacing the club soda with gin. The upshot of this classic switcharoo was the Negroni, a drink traditionally made on the 1:1:1 ratio of Italian Campari, gin, and vermouth. On a bad day, it’s syrupy and frightening. On good days, it’s the most indescribable, refreshing, impressive cocktail on or off the menu. But why, after one hundred years, is it getting its moment of fame?
In my opinion, drinking a sweet drink is a sign of weakness. Sweet drinks are for children and people afraid of the truth. (Case in point: I used to show up to parties in high school with a bottle of Malibu and drink it, straight, by myself.) In the past ten years, bitter, briny, and earthy tasting foods have taken center stage, casting aside the milk chocolates and light beers of the world—at least in city societies.
In 2017, Vogue remarked on this, citing the “ubiquity of other bitter foods—kale, brussels sprouts, dark chocolate, coffee, and IPA.” This point should not be ignored. What is the newfangled obsession with bitter consumables? Foods so bitter and, some might say unappetizing, that you have to sample them multiple times before truly enjoying the flavor?
In nature, bitterness often denotes poison. It’s a lot for our mouths to handle; it asks for a maturity from the ingestor. Sweetness, on the other hand, is the first thing we learned to love. As children it was our reward, our currency with friends, the cherry on top of our sundaes, the very reason we forged through our dinner plates: dessert time, baby! Pure sweetness in adulthood is the opposite of a badge of honor. We’re supposed to be able to handle more. We’re supposed to be more interesting, more complex.
Enter: the Negroni. A drink with all the trappings of prestige, culture, and character. When someone orders a Negroni, you assume things about them. They’ve probably tanned topless on a drifting boat in the middle of the Amalfi. They’ve probably clinked glasses with wildmen and aristocrats in a hostel in Lisbon. This person, I daresay, does not fuck with Whiteclaws. Life has slapped them around a bit. They’ve become adept at stomaching the cocktail of pain and heartbreak and wonder and intrigue life has to offer. Just look what they’re drinking! A beverage the color of Italy, the hue of the sun when you stare at it for too long, the scent of something dangerous and perhaps even rancid. This person read Hemingway AND LIKED IT, I’ll bet. You should most definitely take this person home. (By the way, did I mention I love Negronis?)
We have a lot to be bitter about these days. The polar ice caps are melting. Teenagers are growing tiny horns at the nape of their necks due to incessant texting and overzealous instagramming. Don’t even get me started on the president. So we take that bitterness and we drink it down until there’s nothing but an orange rind left.
Happy Negroni Week, San Francisco. Stay bitter.
// Photography by Louis Hansel.
Isabella Welch is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in history. Her writing has been featured in history journals, travel blogs, arts & culture magazines, and more. Director of Editorial & Creative Development at Bob Cut Mag, lover of stories and tinto de verano, she’s usually found wandering the Headlands.