When it comes to Florence, in the collective imagination, nothing is more evocative than the Dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. But when it comes to bars, there is no stronger city icon than the Negroni.
Anyone who has been even once to Florence should not fail to try this cocktail. As simple as it is extraordinary, despite having a strong local identity, the Negroni is today one of the most popular drinks in the world.
The birth of the Negroni
It was the 1920s and in the heart of the city of Florence, a few steps from the Duomo, Count Camillo Negroni, a young Florentine scion, ordered a variant of the Americano Cocktail adding 1/3 bitters, from his trusted barman Fosco Scarselli. 1/3 Red Vermouth and 1/3 Gin the Negroni was born in the Bar Drogheria Casoni on Via de ‘Tornabuoni.
And it is precisely in the image of the Count that it is possible to recognize the identity and spirit of the city of Florence: on the one hand, the cradle of Renaissance culture and on the other, a city that has always been open to the world around it. In fact, Count Negroni was a cosmopolitan man who lived for a long time both in London and in the United States, especially in New York. It was here, attending the trendy clubs of the city, that he met the world of mixology, unknown in Italy at the time. Mixology and, consequently, the figure of the barman started to take form and enter into the habits of Italian drinking only since the Second World War. Before then, people drank almost exclusively wine, except for the more affluent classes who also used to “drink American”, with drinks that were the result of the union between the most disparate spirits and vermouth.
Negroni, yes, but where and when?
As a Florentine and a lover of mixed drinks, the first question requires a slightly more detailed answer, but as for “when” my response is “when you feel like it most!” To tell the whole truth, the Negroni would be counted among the aperitif drinks, usually imbibed before dinner, but I assure you that no one in the city will judge you if you order the Count’s cocktail at any time of day!
As for the “where” given that Florence has, today, one of the most active and stimulating bar scenes in Italy – and consequently it is unlikely that you will come across a badly done Negroni (and I do not mean a “Sbagliato Negroni” which is a variant of the original with Prosecco instead of Gin) – I want to share with you the counters I like to sit at to order a noteworthy Negroni!
I can only start with Gilli, not only because it is the oldest café in Florence and a true institution among the Literary Cafes in Italy, but because here you will come across the greatest expert on Negronis: Luca Picchi. Luca, in addition to being one of the best known bartenders in Tuscany (and beyond), has literally reconstructed the story of Count Camillo Negroni and the birth of the homonymous cocktail, which is then reported in several books written by him. That said, despite the fact that Luca has proposed numerous twists on this extraordinary cocktail over the years, my advice in this case is to enjoy the classic Negroni, which always has a timeless charm, just as Gilli’s environment.
Our second stop is located a few steps from Piazza della Repubblica, and is a place with a Rock ‘n’ Roll soul: Move On. The reason why I tell you about this place, (which at the same time is also a beautiful LP store) is because of Luca Manni, alias Lo Sceriffo, bar manager of Move On. Here, as well as being able to enjoy a drink in a private room overlooking the Battistero and the Duomo (the restaurant is in fact located right in Piazza del Duomo), you will have the opportunity to experience the proverbial welcome of Lo Sceriffo (the Sheriff), a true lover of the cocktail. Here I suggest you try the Negroni Bianco “Everyday I have the Blues”, based on white bitters, gin and a homemade white vermouth flavoured with ginger.
Atrium Bar & Lounge – Four Seasons Hotel
The Atrium Bar is simply unique and all the rooms of the Four Seasons in Florence are unique. Once you cross the threshold of the Palazzo della Gherardesca, home to this exclusive hotel, you will be enveloped by a constant and tangible sensation of beauty, which will accompany you throughout the evening. Entering the hall of the Atrium bar you will be greeted by the Bar Manager Tommaso Ondeggia, who with a grace of another era will bring you in front of one of the most beautiful counters in the city. Here you will meet Edoardo Sandri, Head Mixologist of the Atrium Bar. Edoardo is one of the best prepared bartenders you will meet, who I am sure will win you over immediately with his energy and spontaneity. The experience at the Atrium is something to really try. My advice is to dive into the evening and have the drink prepared directly from the Negroni trolley served with the notes of Maurizio, the pianist of the hotel, in the background.
Speaking of historic buildings, dreamy atmospheres and out of the ordinary experiences, I can’t help but tell you about Locale. Locale is one of those places that makes you understand the extraordinary level that mixology has reached in Florence. In a thirteenth-century building perfectly restored to keep intact the charm of the eras that have brought it to us today, Bar Manager Matteo di Ienno has created a real laboratory, a temple of mixed drinking. The preparations at the base of his drinks are as complex in the formulation as they are extraordinarily simple and enjoyable in the drink. Behind the bar counter positioned in the center of an ancient courtyard lives a tall wall of bottles and around you walls covered with vertical greenery. Here, let them serve you their Ghost Negroni, a reinterpretation of the highest technical level, in which the Count’s cocktail is entirely distilled to appear more transparent than water but with all the flavor that made us fall in love with this centuries-old drink intact.
Rasputin Secret bar
Our next place on the list has a lot to say: this is Rasputin, the only secret bar in Florence. “Somewhere in Santo Spirito” (as indicated by the only indication on the address of the bar) there is (as long as you can find it!) a Victorian-style living room that seems straight out of a book by Arthur Conan Doyle. In this reserved and relaxing environment, bar manager Daniele Cancellara will welcome you to your table and then return to you with a welcome drink, which can only be a mini Negroni! Daniele is a true Whiskey lover and expert, and so my advice is to request one of the most famous Negroni twists in the world: the Boulevardier, where Gin is replaced by Whiskey.
The Fusion Bar & Restaurant – Lungarno Collection
Nothing is more appropriate in this case than the Latin saying “Nomen Omen”, as in the blending of Sacha Mecocci, bar manager of the Fusion Bar, East and West meet to create truly extraordinary nuances of taste. In this place, the concept of “Twist on Classic” (that is, the reinterpretation of Classic Cocktails) takes on a unique depth, mainly focused on the intrusion of traditional oriental and South American drinks and ingredients with the flavors of our home. A real must here is the Fusion Negroni, a signature consisting of Winestillery London Dry Gin, Cynar, Exotic Vermouth (homemade blend of Italian red and white vermouth infused for 24 hours with cardamom, lemongrass and pink grapefruit peel) and two drops of Angostura. Get ready for the coup de théâtre when they will serve it wrapped in a cloud of cherry wood smoke flavored with bergamot.
At the moment the Fusion Bar is closed, but don’t worry, you can find Sacha at the Terrace of the Hotel Continentale (also belonging to the Lungarno Collection group), whose view of the Ponte Vecchio will make you fall in love.
Picteau Lounge Bar – Lungarno Collection
This Hotel Bar in Borgo San Jacopo is a small hidden gem a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio. A refined setting made of wood paneling and works of art (including a Picasso and a Jean Cocteau on the fireplace at the back of the room) that almost has the feeling of an elegant boat of yesteryear houses the young and highly trained bartenders Marco Colonnelli and Vincenzo Civita, winners of Best Negroni during Florence Cocktail Week. Their Negroni, called “Conte di Picche” is something truly surprising, made with Old Tom Winestillery base, a blend of Nardini amari and a homemade raspberry wine. In case this signature cocktail is no longer available, fear not, you can choose one from their Negroni card, called “A tribute to Conte Camillo”. And if you are in the mood for celebrations, maybe you can opt for the “Royal Negroni”, a cocktail made with Vintage bottles from the 50s, 70s, and 80s. Definitely a drink to drink on special occasions, considering the price of 200 euros.
Empireo Rooftop Bar – Plaza Hotel Lucchesi
Speaking of breathtaking views of the Florence skyline, a real must is the Empire Rooftop Bar at the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi. The elegance and courtesy of the FB Manager Gabriele Frongia and the head bartender Enrico Cascella are just the anticipation of what awaits you as you go up to the top floor of the hotel. On the terrace with a swimming pool overlooking the National Library (and a 360 degree view of Florence), sipping a Negroni at sunset, I assure you, will be able to put you at peace.
Angel Roofbar & Dining – Hotel Calimala
Still on the subject of Rooftop Bars, a fresh new entry in the city panorama is the Angel. A modern and suggestive environment among the rooftops of Florence, rows of hanging light bulbs, red bricks all enriched by an unusual glimpse of Palazzo Vecchio, Orsanmichele and Santa Maria del Fiore. The terrace has both indoor and outdoor spaces, so you can take refuge there at any time of the day or year. The warmth of the Roman welcome of General Manager Diego Rampietti will captivate you. Diego’s energy is unrivaled and despite the important role he plays in the company, he manages to keep his spirit as a barman intact. My advice here is simple: ask for Diego’s Improved Negroni, you won’t regret it.
Manifattura is simply brilliant. Only and exclusively Italian products in the bottle, behind the counter the inexcusable flair of Fabiano Buffolino, bar manager of the restaurant located in Piazza San Pancrazio. Fabiano has a twenty-year career in the bar world behind him and knows how to combine elegance with a pinch of anarchy like no other. Here at Manifattura the drinks are not called cocktails but “daring mixtures”, with a reference to the “Italianization” of terms typical of the 1930s / 1940s, an era that inspired the place in the tone of voice. Here the bartenders dress in a pharmacist’s white coat, and just like authentic pharmacists they know how to masterfully balance the right doses of their preparations. My advice here is to try their white Negroni.
Let’s move to the San Frediano neighborhood, considered one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world according to Lonely Planet, to try a variant on the theme that will transport us to the varied landscape of Central America. Floreal is a new venue opened in the center of this neighborhood made up of small shops, its offer is centered on spirits based on Agave (aka, the rowdy sister of Aloe Vera), such as Tequila and Mezcal. Rely on the hands of the front man Antonio Romano and the French barlady Virginie Doucet to try a twist on the Negroni with the most identifying spirits of Mexico.
Mad Souls & Spirits
As they usually say, (and in this case the clarification is more appropriate than ever) last but not least, the MAD. In fact, this place, a symbol of San Frediano and Oltrarno, needs no introduction if you are from Florence, but the presentation is nonetheless superfluous if you are a bar lover, from anywhere in the world you come. The MAD is a Cocktail Pub, that is a bar where the mixology is refined and of extreme quality but in which the environment is carefree and informal. Known for its irreverent spirit, Neri Fantechi’s Bar, launched in 2016 together with the legendary Julian Biondi, has managed over the years to give a carefree boost to the world of drinking mixed with twists and signature cocktails. In this place, where Spritz is banned, bar manager Lorenzo Aiosa (authentic beyond classy) and his team will overwhelm you with an energy that is nothing short of electrifying. Take a seat at the counter, fasten your seat belts and order a Negroni, mixed with a pinch of madness, in full Mad style!