I pull up a stool at the handsome copper-topped bar at Grappino di Nino (2817 West Dallas, 713-522-5120) and proceed to tell bartender David Menneci a story about the cocktail I just ordered: the very Italian Negroni, based on the original recipe. Around 1920, I tell David, a Florentine bon vivant named Count Camillo Negroni asked the barman at his regular watering hole to add a bit of English gin and a garnish of an orange slice to a drink then popular in post-WWI Italy, the Americano. The Americano, made of Campari and sweet red vermouth with a splash of sparkling water, was a lighter version of the Milano-Torino, so named because Campari was made in Milan and vermouth in Turin. Count Negroni added the Anglophile touch, in honor of having spent time in England, an Italian ally during the Great War.
David smiles and says, "A good cocktail should have a story." And since every good cocktail deserves a second one, he proceeds to make his own Negroni, using his preferred brand of gin.
Grappino di Nino's Negroni:
Half-shot of Versasi sweet
Half-shot of Campari
Half-shot of Tanqueray No. 10 gin
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Shake over ice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel or, if you want to be like the comte, a slice of orange. The absolutely authentic splash of seltzer lightens it up on a hot summer's day.