Troy Patterson’s Epic Negroni Bar Crawl

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
Nov. 12 2012 3:23 PM

The Negroni

Readers told me which cocktail to order on my birthday. I ordered one too many.

promo_TAKEOVER_Header

Negroni cocktail.
A Negroni

Photograph by Ivan Mateev/iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

A long fortnight ago—10 business days and 40 nights ago—at the edge of the 5 o'clock Friday cocktail hour, this magazine posted an invitation to "Boss Troy Patterson Around." Your correspondent promised to research a cocktail of his readers’ choosing while celebrating his birthday out on the town in beloved New York. A widget listed a menu of six classic drinks, and as voting opened—push my button, tip my cup—I idly rooted for the Gibson to win, lusting after a quest for cocktail onions.

On Sunday, I sipped a hurricane in my Brooklyn apartment, a long fraction of a mile inland from the Upper Bay. On Monday, 100 miles south, a storm of unprecedented dimensions made landfall in New Jersey. On Tuesday, neighborhoods in my city were blacked-out and burning and flooded and smashed and sobbing. On Wednesday, bars and restaurants in unscathed parts of the borough began totally going off all day long, in a snow-day beer blitz that gathered mass and velocity as it collected cabin-feverish locals, stranded tourists, and couch-crashing displaced persons. The week’s bender rolled along with off-duty do-gooders clocking out of volunteer shifts in Red Hook or the Rockaways and solidifying new friendships at saloons advertising “Thirst Responders” specials.

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On Thursday, I turned a year older, though I did not feel so until Friday, when I felt several years older, arduous years, as if instead of going out for drinks I had served a sentence of hard labor as a dull pickaxe. Or if you want to get arty about it: I woke on Friday to discover a hammer whacking a three-nail picture-hanger to my dura mater from the inside, sloppily installing a special exhibition of Edward Ruscha’s OOF, oil on canvas stretched across wood, 71½ by 67 inches.

On Saturday, I pulled together myself and my notes to detail the first North Brooklyn Negroni Crawl.

Negroni Basics

On Thursday night, I cabbed it to my goddaughter’s house in Fort Greene. I got there around 9, and she was already in bed reading about magic figs and radiant pigs—either of which, coincidentally, would have paired well with the cocktails I fixed up for her dad and me:

Two No-Frills Negronis

We crammed two short tumblers with crescents of ice. Freepouring and eyeballing—jigger what?—I crashed across the rocks gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari in equal parts. (Getting fancy with the gin in a Negroni is a waste of money and aromatics. Here I used Gordon’s London Dry, which is far more respectable than its plastic bottle lets on. The vermouth was Cinzano, which also is venerable and versatile, reliably unassertive and gentle on the expense account. The Campari was the one and only potable bitters, popular in Italy since the 1860s, a liqueur as bewitching as an A-list glamour calendar counting the months at a Mediterranean tempo.)

I stirred. (I should have given the drinks at least the dignity of a thorough swizzling, but as we shall see I was in a hurry and I permitted a perfunctory table-spoon swipe to suffice.)

I regretted having forgotten to bring an orange to fashion a garnish. (I was slightly less chagrined that I could not take advantage of my sobriety by playing with matches and flaming an orange twist like a caramelizing showman.)

But I still had a thing here, simple to make and complex to taste, a bittersweet singularity. The Negroni is a forgiving drink, better than decent even when slopped together by an amateur bartender rushing to get on with the inaugural North Brooklyn Negroni Crawl.

Methodology

I presented to my friend—let’s call him Kyle—and his wife a document listing 20 notable Negroni-serving establishments to be found three miles or so to the northeast, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is perhaps the best cocktail neighborhood in the city even when competing neighborhoods are not underwater.

121112_DRINK_NBNC_pdf

Before leaving home, I had shared this document with my wife, declaring my goal of tasting as many Negronis as feasible. She reacted with shock and horror: “Honey, you’ll lose your palate!” Kyle’s wife was likewise skeptical: “Can you really sustain that much Negroni? Like, two Negronis on an empty stomach before dinner are incredible, but a whole night of them?” These good women lacked an appropriate sense of adventure—or perhaps a proper cognizance of our dwindling supply of big nights.

I was content to hit on this outing three or four quality spots. Though sentimentally drawn to The Shanty—a bar attached to a distillery that produces a boutique gin named for Dorothy Parker—I thought it best to begin at the south end of the neighborhood, near the anchorage of the Williamsburg Bridge; there the hooch-houses, densely concentrated, included Peter Luger Steak House (established 1887), Dram (the Best New Cocktail Bar of 2011 according to Time Out New York, the Village Voice, and others), and Duff’s (from the people who brought you Bellevue Bar, a defunct Hell’s Kitchen dive with the atmosphere of a heavy-metal bus-station urinal).  

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