Readers told me which cocktail to order on my birthday. I ordered one too many.
Notes on Campari: Cultural Criticism Made Easy! By Susan Sontag-a-roni
We bobbed closer to the waterfront and got to Donna, which had been reviewed that morning in the Styles section of the New York Times. We ordered one Negroni to split, and after our wanderings, it was like a return to tonic. I suspect the bartender poured the gin with a generous hand, knowing that you can easily increase by 50 percent the quantity suggested in the standard recipe if your heart is pure and your stirring is thorough.
Styles had promised “jabbering 30-somethings … unwinding at the bar.” We instead discovered small litters of twentysomethings learning how to hold themselves (these kids!). The boys were jittery, which was to be expected, given their tenderness of their years, the toughness of the city, and the recent rigors of the climate.
The last time things were really, really bad here, some of the jitters resolved themselves in “terror sex”—in unsettled people furiously pairing off for animal comfort. Among my rationales for visiting Williamsburg, I was saying to Kyle, as we ventured out in search of further Negroni action, was to monitor the vital signs of social life in a week of death. I was elaborating a theory that after a disaster, a certain kind of information—superficial but not strictly trivial—bubbles up as soft news, in Styles and other “women’s sections.” I was asking God to bless our friends at New York magazine, the fashion blog of which had that day heroically posted about a lady in a “full-on Superwoman costume” hailing a cab on blacked-out Avenue A:
If you see such a sight in lower Manhattan involving the poor souls whose Halloween one-night stands are unlucky enough to live in the powerless dead zone, kindly divert your eyes. For you will be witnessing the World's Worst Walks of Shame, so harrowing as to be, in some ways, glorious.
I was holding that the disapproving comments on the post—“you should be ashamed”—were proof of its value as a document of carrying on in the imperial city. I was hopeful of stumbling across news about human behavior. I was in any case pleased, three days after the storm, to be walking the industrial blocks of an unfamiliar neighborhood. Nothing felt wrong because I’d no idea what right looked like. My one good friend in Williamsburg left in 2000 because it had gotten “so hip it hurts,” and she moved to Queens, where tonight her power was out and her bile was up, and I asked God to bless her too.
We lurched into The Levee, which fills the space that half a generation ago housed Kokie’s. (Apropos of which: Luxardo Bitter is almost exactly like Campari but with an alkaline undertaste like post-class-A nasal drip.) There was jukebox speed metal and microbrew on tap. We ordered one Negroni and oh maybe a beer. Yes we had no orange, but still the jewel did shine. Kyle mused on the cocktail’s color dynamics—on Campari’s vermilion brilliancy, on the trap of the false cognate of this very nonblack drink.
We weaved out without hope of tasting too many more sensational Negroni variations. I realized that if you want to do the North Brooklyn Negroni crawl properly, you’ve got to start at a noon brunch—maybe with a “Breakfast Negroni” or a “Negroni Sbagliato”—and then gaily slog through a 15-hour day involving two further sit-down meals, at least one assault on a food truck, and either a showroom-floor siesta in an Eames Lounge or a disco nap in a burgled hotel room.
We crept into a bar called the Soft Spot because I have one for it. Explained to the barkeep that we wanted a Negroni and “something like a Negroni,” and satisfying the latter demand, he spicily fixed a rye-based old pal on the rocks. This was very clearly the right note to end on. Seemed almost a bit pat, in fact, so we took a stab at The Ides, which, being on the sixth floor of an expensive hotel, promised views of Manhattan in the distance and of Balenciaga douchebags in the foreground. The bar was closed, so we circled around to a place called the Gibson, because the bartender at the Soft Spot had said we could count on it to be open late.
Kyle grabbed a Guinness, and a water please, yes, urgently an extra water. I ordered a Gibson with Dorothy Parker Gin. In the glass I caught a glimmer of a Mrs. Parker couplet: “Time doth flit./ Oh shit!” Being at the Gibson as 3 a.m. approached was like being at any random bar in Murray Hill 15 years earlier. The guppy-yuppie clientele, vague in their identities to the point of blurriness, scattered themselves around tall pub tables, passive but alert, ticking but inert like melted pocket watches. I knew it was probably the case that something was happening here and I didn’t know what it was, but also I know nothing was happening here. My fellow patrons didn’t seem that keen on being out, and they demonstrably didn’t want to be home; they were just being and nothingness. Kyle and I abandoned our half-empty glasses, and an orange pumpkin turned into a yellow cab catching plump green lights south through to the second stop at a brownstone stoop. We gently left the North Brooklyn Negroni Crawl right there like unfinished business.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.