Order up the classic cocktail (or a modern variation) in support of a good cause.
While Starbucks embraces the arrival of fall with the return of the pumpkin spice latte, bars around the world are dedicating their focus to something a bit more bitter (and boozy): Negroni Week — a celebration of a timeless classic cocktail.
After a pivot last year to gather donations in support of the restaurant industry during shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Negroni Week is back in full swing this year in its regular format, from September 13th to the 19th. To participate, bars and restaurants register with Negroni Week organizers and pledge to donate a sum of money — either a one time donation, or a portion of sales from their week’s Negroni specials — to one of Negroni Week’s several partner charitable organizations.
First organized through a partnership between cocktail magazine Imbibe and liquor brand (and key Negroni ingredient) Campari in 2013, Negroni Week has expanded to over 12,000 participating bars and restaurants around the world, according to the event’s organizers. Though it might seem like a cleverly constructed marketing ploy for the magazine and the signature liquor, the funds raised by the weeklong celebration of the classic cocktail are not insignificant. Imbibe claims that the 2019 Negroni Week raised over $790,000 in donations for a total of $3 million donated since Negroni Week’s first year. This year, Campari will add an additional $100,000 donation on top of proceeds raised from bars.
It’s worth asking why it’s Negroni Week, and not Margarita Week (although there is a Margarita Day). As former Campari spokesperson Dave Karraker told the New York Times in 2002, “[Negronis are] easy to make, hard to screw up, and it allows for a little bit of creativity.” According to Katie Parla, a self proclaimed “enthusiastic Negroni drinker,” cookbook author and journalist based in Rome, the Negroni may be more popular outside of Italy than it is within the country, except in the Northern regions of Italy that birthed the cocktail. “Negronis aren’t necessarily the most Italian of beverages,” Parla said. “The lower ABV cocktails are the ones that fit into the cultural fabric,” she added. “I’d imagine a spritz week would pop off here more than a Negroni week.”
Interestingly enough, the Negroni does have its roots in a type of spritz. In the 19th century in Milan, the aperitivo drink of choice was the Milano-Torino — composed of equal parts Campari (from Milan), and sweet vermouth (extremely popular in Turin). From there, legend has it that Americans fleeing prohibition in the US drank a variation of the Milano-Torino with soda water added to it, giving the lightly bubbly drink the honorific name of Americano.
In Florence, in the early 20th century, the Negroni came to be when Count Camillo Negroni (who may not be a real count after all), asked a bartender to replace the soda in his Americano with gin for a bit more kick. And thus, the Negroni’s namesake minted a classic cocktail that remains popular around the world to this day, over a hundred years later.
Here’s a few places on the Peninsula where you can get a fine Negroni (or Negroni variant) this week, as well as a recipe for one at home if you can’t make it out.
It’s fitting that Ettan, whose bar program is run by Milan native Massimo Stronati, is participating in Negroni Week with a number of variations on the drink. As if plagued by the guilt of modifying a classic Italian drink, Stronati was quick to note that guests can feel free to order a regular Negroni too.
Try the Negroni Mistaken, a variant with its own interesting backstory. The Negroni sbagliato (which means wrong in Italian) was created when a barman used prosecco instead of gin. In Ettan’s version, sweet vermouth is substituted for Cocchi Americano, a citrusy, bitter Italian aperitif.
If you’d really like to experiment, opt for the Viking Negroni, which replaces gin with aquavit — a distilled Scandinavian liquor with prominent notes of caraway and dill. In keeping with the Nordic theme, Ettan includes the incredibly difficult to source Fallen Pony Blend from Copenhagen based artisans, Empirical Spirits. The spirit, distilled from a base of quince tea, adds perfume-like apple aromatics to complement the aquavit.
A portion of Negroni sales from Ettan are being donated to the James Beard Open for Good campaign, a recovery fund for restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ettan // 518 Bryant St, Palo Alto; 650.752.6281
Left Bank, the French brasserie with outposts in Larkspur, Menlo Park, and Santana Row has chosen to participate in Negroni week with an original and two variations: The Coffee, and The Strawberry.
Uniting all three of these Negroni’s is Left Bank’s use of Barr Hill Gin, a gin distilled in Vermont from a base of raw honey, produced by local bees. According to Barr Hill, four pounds of raw honey go into every bottle of their gin.
Left Bank’s “The Coffee” Negroni includes Mr. Black Coffee Liqueur, an Australian product formulated to bring the country’s serious daytime coffee culture into its boozy nighttime drinks.
If you fall in love with Barr Hill gin, look out for Bee’s Knee’s Week at the end of this month, a campaign where Barr Hill builds bee habitats for every photo of a Bee’s Knee’s cocktail shared on social media.
A portion of Left Bank’s sales will benefit the Marin Food Bank.
Left Bank // 635 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park ;650.473.6543
Barrelhouse, in Burlingame, has taken their Negroni Week participation up a notch. As a premium donor, Barrelhouse has agreed to donate at least $250 at the start of the week, in addition to a portion of proceeds.
If you can’t snag a Negroni, do the next best thing. Go for a Last Word — made with gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime — and make your own donation to one of the many charities benefitting from Negroni week.
Barrelhouse’s proceeds benefit No Kid Hungry and their mission to end childhood hunger.
Barrelhouse // 305 California Dr, Burlingame; 650.340.8642 and
Il Fornaio — Burlingame & Palo Alto
The only Italian restaurant we found on the Peninsula that’s participating in Negroni Week is Il Fornaio. The restaurant claims to serve its guests the “most authentic experience outside of Italy,” and they haven’t compromised on that mission, choosing to offer the classic Negroni this week.
Nevertheless, a dollar from every purchase goes towards the Helen David Relief Fund, a charity named after a bar owner from Michigan who battled breast cancer twice during her lifetime. The fund now supports bartenders battling cancer, along with their children and spouses.
Il Fornaio // 327 Lorton Avenue, Burlingame; 650.375.8000 and 520 Cowper Street, Palo Alto; 650.853.3888
Bitters & Bottles
If you’re reading this too late to make it out for Negroni Week (or just don’t feel inclined to leave the house), Bitters & Bottles has offered a handy Negroni variation you can make at home, switching out gin for rum, and adding a tart twist from Chinola, a passion fruit liqueur produced in the Dominican Republic.
Passion Fruit Negroni
1oz Appleton Estate 8 Year Rum
1oz Chinola passion fruit liqueur
Stir the ingredients with ice and strain over a large cube or build in a glass on the rocks. Garnish with passion fruit if you’ve got it!
Note: If you can’t find Chinola, look for any passion fruit liqueur, and split it with sweet vermouth. (Also, remember that you can innovate your own Negroni by keeping the basic structure of equal parts base spirits + bitter spirit + sweet component.)
Bitters & Bottles // 240 Grand Ave, So. San Francisco; 650.741.6430
Stay up to date with other coverage from The Six Fifty by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, featuring event listings, reviews and articles showcasing the best that the Peninsula has to offer. Sign up here!