When it comes to classic aperitifs, none is more ubiquitous than Campari. Even for a brand that’s more than 150 years old, the classic Italian liqueur has never been more popular in the United States than in the last decade. And that’s largely thanks to the rise of bar programs that put the Negroni, the most quintessential Italian cocktail and Campari’s most popular vehicle, front and center with other classics like old-fashioneds, Manhattans and gimlets.
Orson Welles was a big fan of the Negroni; in 1947, while reporting from Rome, he observed that “the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” And despite this sly endorsement, there is still a number of ways to enjoy Campari in non-Negroni form. Here are four favorites.
① Dante (New York, NY)
For anyone searching to better understand the majesty of Campari, Dante is the pilgrimage to make. Although the restaurant, which recently emerged from a renovation after 100 years as its former self, Caffe Dante, offers a number of Campari-based cocktails, it’s the Americano—the precursor to the Negroni itself—that continues to stand out. By substituting club soda for gin, the Americano is as refreshing as it is tasty. Start with that, then dive into Dante’s wide menu of Negronis, which includes a chocolate version with crème de cacao.
② Heavy Feather (Chicago, IL)
Heavy Feather sits above a red-lit Logan Square bar geared toward the Skee-Ball lover in all of us and prides itself on acting as a “mirage to yesteryear.” With that in mind, the menu offers a veritable cool-kid twist on the classics, including the Tony Negroni, made with two gins, along with crème de noyaux. The result? A delectable almondy finish that’s perfect for thawing out during Chicago’s long, dark winters.
③ Whisler’s (Austin, TX)
Classics are not meant to be tampered with, except, of course, when you can make them better. Whisler’s Boulevardier, which swaps gin out for bourbon, does just that. Sure, Whisler’s has an intimate mescal bar on the second floor, but for the occasional Austin night when there’s a chill in the air, nothing beats this combination of bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth.
④ Tooker Alley (Brooklyn, NY)
Taking inspiration from the Prohibition-era bars of Chicago’s crime-ridden North Side, Tooker Alley is nothing if not obsessive; even the menu reads like a book. Tooker’s classic take on the Negroni, with the addition of Sorel liqueur, delivers just a slight hint of the unknown, like a throwback to the clandestine drinking dens of a bygone era.
During In Good Spirits month, we're going behind the bar to find out what separates aperitifs from digestifs, which It cocktails the world's top bartenders crave and how to turn your home into the hottest speakeasy in town.
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