What’s the deal with Negroni Week? Glad you asked! Negroni Week is entering its 6th year next week, from June 4-10, and the whole point is two-fold: 1) to drink and 2) to support a good cause while you’re at it. Here’s a rundown of what to expect if you happen upon one of the 122 participating spots in San Francisco alone.
If a bar or restaurant opts in, they get to pick from a pre-selected list of charities covering causes from homelessness to refugee support to animal rescue. They make an upfront donation, with the option of donating an additional amount later on, and then comes the fun part—coming up with their own take on the classic Negroni. For you non-mixologists, a Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, so basically it’s…pure booze. And yes, Campari is a primary sponsor for the week along with Imbibe Magazine, but who minds a little PR push if it’s a win-win-win-win (Campari, us drinkers, bars, and charities)? Last year, Negroni Week raised over $500,000 for the chosen causes, so to make it as easy as possible for you to get in on that feelgood action, I did some homework and not only pulled out some of the can’t-miss featured Negronis in San Francisco, but went the extra mile and tried a couple out for myself. You know, for research.
In whittling down my list of Negronis to taste-test, I knew I needed to try one classic and one nontraditional. I decided to zero in on North Beach to get that authentic, old-school Italian vibe, and ultimately, found first-time Negroni Week participant Columbus Cafe, who is advertising a classic gin Negroni alongside a very on-trend mezcal version. And all at one of the oldest, and best, dives in S.F. Perfect! So on a windy Wednesday evening I sidled up to the bar to chat with Beka Woods, Columbus Cafe’s general manager, to learn a little about why she chose to participate and how she landed on her two offerings. Turns out, the same line of thought that led to my choosing Columbus Cafe is how they ended up participating—being in North Beach, Beka felt like it was in the spirit of the neighborhood’s history to celebrate this iconic cocktail. Why mezcal, too? Well, she loves mezcal, so why not? Columbus Cafe has also previously raised funds for Muttville, their charity of choice, which helps senior dogs find a home (awwwwwwwwww), so it was an easy yes.
So there I was, gin Negroni on my left and mezcal Negroni on my right. Alternating a gin sip with a mezcal sip, which was probably not a great approach but that’s neither here nor there, I asked how often anyone even orders a Negroni these days. Turns out, it’s a very specific clientele who requests this specific drink, and hint hint, it’s not exactly a youthful one. Let’s say they’re…knowledgeable. Those who order Negronis, she explains, know Negronis, so that was one more reason not to stray too far from the classic. I love martinis, and I love bitters, so I was quite pleased with the gin version because it felt like a hybrid of cocktails I would normally order. I might even order one after Negroni Week is over if I’m feeling crazy, who knows! The mezcal wasn’t bad either, if you’re into mezcal, and would definitely make a pretty impressive first date cocktail order…you’re welcome. So here’s some advice from Beka and yours truly…head to North Beach and double fist Negronis (responsibly of course!) sometime this week, all in the name of those sweet old dogs at Muttville.
Here are some highlights from other participating bars. This is just a taste, so head to www.negroniweek.com for the full list. I can promise there’s something in there for 99% of you—the other 1% can scrooge it up and order a beer while everyone gives you dirty looks.
1. True Laurel — Botanist Gin, Campari, and Oliveras all washed with strawberries, then a touch of house creme de cacao and sea salt.
2. The Interval — Carbonated Negroni on Tap (Over The Falls): Campari, Aperol, blanc vermouth, gin.
3. Mystic Room — Fruit Loops Negroni (made with Fruit Loops milk-washed Botanist gin) and a S’mores Negroni (made with marshmallow root, graham crackers, and Spring 44 Old Tom Gin)
4. Boulevard — Distillery 209 gin (San Francisco), Lo-Fi sweet vermouth (Napa), Campari
5. Miller’s Rest — PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO NEGRONI: We swap out the sweet vermouth for an aged port wine to shift to a deeper, richer flavored version of the Negroni that does well in colder climates–such as summers in San Francisco!
6. Black Cat — CHINATOWN NEGRONI: lapsang souchong-infused Campari, London dry gin, Carpano Antica vermouth, saline tincture, orange peel, smoked tea spritz to finish.
7. Whitechapel — Canned, carbonated Negroni.
Header image by Chowhound.