The Negroni Cocktail

Negroni Cocktail

“There is a thirty year age difference between us thought Mrs. Stone. Then she was ashamed of herself and by the time Paolo had emerged from the bathroom she had mixed two negronis and placed them on the glass-topped table on the still sunny terrace with a bowl of olives between. Paolo came outside with an air of abstraction. He paid no attention to the drinks, but left her sipping hers while he wandered over to the balustrade and looked moodily down into the little piazza at the top of the Spanish stairs. Mrs. Stone thought to herself, This is a time to lie low. And so she made no comment. She sipped her drink with her eyes on his grey flannel back and she thought of the night when the flannel would not stand between them.”

                       Page 31, “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”, Tennessee Williams.

Even its most ardent fans, myself included, must admit that the Negroni is not always enjoyable at first contact. It is a near-universal first time sipper experience that can often block one from falling in love with this stubbornly seductive cocktail. Stick with that drink and what begins by leaving a bad taste in your mouth becomes a complete joy by the time you finish your inaugural glass. By your third you will be well on your way to a lifetime of full Negroni enjoyment. But please consider not having three at your first sitting. The Negroni’s initial flirting will be an all out date-rape by the third glass if you are not careful. Prolong the dating phase and don’t put out so soon. Wait for the Negroni to put a ring on your finger. This is a cocktail meant to be enjoyed for a lifetime.

I should know. I have been enjoying Negronis since I was eleven years old.

Well, not exactly.

Negroni Cocktail



I was eleven when I first saw the1961 film “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”. 48 year old Vivian Leigh stars as the aging and “drifting” ex-pat star of the US stage Karen Stone. Mrs. Stone decides settle in Rome following the unexpected death of her rich husband and takes up with a gigolo who instead of satisfying her middle aged restlessness, sets her on a course of her own self-destruction. Naturally, my eleven year old self didn’t quite understand the subtext of the story for I was much to entranced by the scenery, the costumes, and the actress who wore clothes that reminded me of my grandmother only she looked much better in them. My lack of adult comprehension notwithstanding, I was fixated on both Miss Leigh and the Tennessee Williams dialogue I was feverishly putting to memory.

The Negroni is a cocktail made of 1/3 Campari, 1/3 gin, and 1/3 sweet vermouth.It is as much an official libation of Rome as anything else that can be considered. My friend Michael Procopio of Food For The Thoughtless describes this intensely bitter beverage as “deliciously louche{hinting] at danger and moral decay more precisely than any other drink, save Absinthe.”


It is a pithy but accurate description for what was Karen Stone’s drink of choice. It is perhaps the only example I know of where a cocktail is used as a foreshadowing device in either literature of film. (In this case both since the film is based on the novella, also by Mr. Williams.) The biting gin, Campari, and vermouth fuse with a precision sense of style you would expect from an Italian sportscar. Like a Maserati, this cocktail is not for the ordinary.

“Would you care for a Negroni?”, 

I asked this of my mother every afternoon after school while doing my best Vivian Leigh as Karen Stone impersonation. Mom would listen at her ironing board unamused before popping up silently (but rolling her eyes I’m sure) to make me an after school snack usually consisting of cheese, crackers, and a “Negroni”.

“Paolo, would you please make up some Negronis and serve them to us on the veranda?” 


Paolo, Mrs. Stone’s gigolo was played in the film by a gorgeous, young Warren Beatty. In my family room productions, however, my mother would be called on to take on the role. We did not actually have a veranda but since I was trying my very best to be as charming as Mrs. Stone was while offering a libation to her guests I would imagine our back porch into the veranda overlooking Rome’s Piazza Trinità dei Monti and the Spanish Steps. A great view is often overlooked when considering what makes a great cocktail.

“Mom, when the time comes that nobody desires me for myself, I would rather not be desired at all.”

Mom tolerated my over-active eleven year old imagination although she would rarely crack a smile while my temporary obsession played itself out. Perhaps she was already considering just exactly what an eleven year old boy’s obsession with Vivian Leigh and Tennessee Williams dialogue would mean for her later? The Karen Stone phase would surely pass, but…

I didn’t know then what a Negroni was but I knew I liked the sound and the ritual of it. There was no Google then and we didn’t have an encyclopedia but my intense observation of the film version had it looking much like a blend of cranberry and apple juice — so that is how we made them. I soon wore down my mother’s objections to serving them in her good barware. A good cocktail is only fully realized when served in an appropriate glass after all.


Years later after having so romanticized the drink as a child I would be deeply disappointed to take my first sip and not really like it much. Had I powered through that initial displeasure I would have probably ended up enjoying it but it is doubtful I ever made it to the end. I had no patience for much of anything those days. I probably took one sip and ordered a cranberry vodka.

It would be years later before I would give it another go and let tenacity do its magic. Now the Negroni is a personal favorite and certainly had a starring role during my recent summer trip to Rome. (Yes, I’m obnoxiously rubbing it in again!) Here are some examples:

The Negroni Cocktail

When made correctly the drink is always constructed with a 1:1:1 proportion. Any bartender who makes apologies for any one of its ingredients by changing the proportions of the others is not serving a Negroni as far as I’m concerned. The only versions I have ever had in Italy were always served over ice with a wedge of orange and this is how like like them as well although it is perfectly acceptable to serve it in an up glass with an orange twist instead of a slice.

Either way the drink needs a good mixing as it will taste much differently to you just a few minutes after the flavors have fully blended.

Or is that my imagination?


The Negroni

The Negroni

This is what you will need:

  • 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • orange slice for garnish

This is how you make it:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain into glass filled with ice cubes and garnish with the orange slice. Enjoy overlooking a Roman sunset, spring or any other season. Watch out for moral decay.

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. Drinks with Campari always seem really chic to me. Like Mad Men style, 50s-60s era.

  2. Sis.Booze! I love campari and love this post. You have inspired me ten fold. I hope we can have negronis when we get together and cheers to the good times. Jealous about the Rome drinks, you punk!

  3. “The Negroni’s initial flirting will be an all out date-rape by the third glass if you are not careful. Prolong the dating phase and don’t put out so soon.”… This made me want to go home and drink three immediately. What does this say about me? Brava!

  4. Bravo, signore. Brav-o.

    What is it about Vivien Leigh and gay boys? If my mother had had a third son, he surely would have been obsessed with The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. As it was, I don’t know how she remained sober through my refusing to speak with anything but a southern accent and constant begging to move to Atlanta. Or my brother’s emerging from the bathroom, faking nervous giddiness and breezing into the dining room to announce, “Here I am, all freshly bathed and powdered and feeling like a brand new human being!”

    I am grateful I did not discover the film until college.

  5. The only way I could ever have been convinced to have a child was if it would be a son and I could be guaranteed that he would act act exactly as you describe above. For once I am not even being sarcastic. And I too love a Negroni … sometimes even three. At once!

  6. Of course you would have been utterly precocious with a fertile imagination.

    I grew up in a dry household, so Negroni’s never made it into my childhood play. Perhaps now that I am an adult…

    And, I think you are allowed to rub in your trip – just a little bit.

  7. Trevor
    You are thoroughly entertaining!!
    I love your blog!!
    Caro Beaudoin

  8. A huge fan! Great post and a fantastic drink. What say you of a Aperol spritz, equally delicious and a great stepping stone toward the negroni, makes that first date much more bearable.

  9. I was listening to a podcast all about cocktails (while running a few miles… nothing like torture) and that’s when I first heard of this classic drink. Now I’m dying to try it – now where to get Campari – can I find that at any liqueur store or will I have to hunt it out?

  10. Tina Smith says:

    I love your blog!!! I love you. This was fantastic reading and you are a brilliant writer!! Loved it!!

  11. I think I would have enjoyed your company when I was 11. You had your classy Roman fantasy and I had my Berlin Burlesque one. Yes, the movie I was acting out at that age whas Cabaret. Could our two worlds meet? It might have been a very interesting story Liza Minnelli and Vivien Leigh.


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