The Negroni is hardly a new concoction: An Italian-import invented nearly a century ago, it's been a bartender's mainstay for nearly as long. And in recent years, as the American palate has gone more in the direction of bitter cocktails, the Campari-laced drink has enjoyed a rise in prominence. But contemporary bartenders are always looking for what's next, beyond the textbook, gin-based Negroni. An exploration of some of the city's forward-thinking bar menus reveals a number of noteworthy tweaks on the familiar classic.
10. Negroni Three Ways #3
One of the most sensible variations on the Negroni involves subbing the juniper-imbued essence of gin for another equally-pungent botanical: agave. At Three Clubs in Hollywood, bartender Michael Neff harnesses the vegetal tang of Suerte Tequila Blanco as a base for his Negroni Three Ways #3. As an added twist, he also enlivens the drink with a splash of grapefruit juice, a natural accomplice to Campari's unrelenting bitterness. 1123 Vine St, Hollywood; (323) 462-6441.
9. Oaxacan Negroni
For a full-flavored smoke monster, head to Neat Bar in Glendale, where Aidan Demarest is infusing his drink with Mescal. Named for the Mexican region responsible for it, the Oaxacan Negroni sticks to the classic recipe — save for the smoked agave spirit where the gin would normally be. There is profound satisfaction to be found at the intersection of smoke and bitter. Mescal imparts such an overbearing flavor, it's a testament to the power of Campari that it actually can compete for attention on the palate here. 1114 N Pacific Ave, Glendale; (818) 241-4542.
8. Lambretta No. 2
Bartender Aaron Alvarez cuts a gentler tack at Big Bar. His Lambretta No. 2 relies on Lillet Rosé and a touch of orange juice for a gentle, floral finish. Not nearly as strong as some of its liquor-heavy counterparts, it's criminally refreshing, particularly as a respite from 90+ degree heat. 1929 Hillhurst Ave, Los Feliz; (323) 644-0100.
7. Carioca Negroni
Another quenching rendition, exotic and yet somehow familiar, is the Carioca Negroni — fashioned by Nancy Kwon at Copper Still. Her offering supplants the gin and the Campari with Avua Prata Cachaca and Luxardo Bitter, respectively. It's a significant departure, to be sure, but it stays close enough to the trodden trail of the original to warrant the name in its title. 4493 Beverly Blvd, Mid-Wilshire; 323-661-1985.
6. The Outsider
At City Tavern, the clientele is so fond of off-centered Negronis that bartender Ryan Hughes maintains two "FrankeNegronis" as permanent menu fixtures. The Outsider, built around Nolet's Silver Gin, is armed with an herbaceous blast thanks to the addition of Fernet Branca and Cardamaro — a digestif made with cardoon and blessed thistle. If that seems too off-the-rails, Hughes has something to appease even the traditionalists, not to mention the altruists. I Love Boobies begins life as a classic Negroni before being spruced up with a 1/4 oz. of Georgia Peach Shrub. Its PG-13 moniker is a nod to the Keep-A-Breast foundation, which raises awareness for early detection and prevention of breast cancer. A dollar from each cocktail sold goes to the fund. No matter how you take your Negroni, everyone enjoys drinking for a good cause. 9739 Culver Blvd, Culver City; (310) 838-9739.
5. White Negroni
The bar at Son of a Gun is one of the only places in America still serving Suze, an aromatic French aperitif with an Old World flair. Beverage Director Helen Johannesen wraps her Negroni variation in its warm, floral embrace, omitting the Campari. The result is a delicate sipper that initially evokes a Vesper, but finishes with slightly more bitterness. 8370 W. 3rd St, Melrose; 323-782-9033.
4. Original Gangster
It's lineage predates the Negroni, yet the Boulevardier is commonly mistaken as a Negroni variation. It's an easy error to make, considering that the recipe is identical, save for the bourbon standing in for gin. Although the Original Gangster at Fishing with Dynamite is technically a twist on the Boulevardier — using White Dog whiskey — it exists very much like a grittier Negroni. It's an alluring, dynamic drink with the placid sweetness of Aperol tamed by a few dashes of grapefruit bitters. 1148 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach; (310) 893-6299.
3. Genever Garner
The Dutch spirit of Genever inspired the English to invent gin. Using it as a replacement in a Negroni brings the evolution full circle at Harlowe Bar, where barkeep Chris Amirault mixes up this malty cocktail with a playful name. He incorporates a distinct style of vermouth known as Cocchi Torino; it brings a touch of chocolate tones into the background, which are intensified by a pinch of salt. Easily the most savory Negroni sendup in the city. 7321 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood; (323) 876-5839.
2. Smoky Negroni
The bar staff at Hakkasan takes their Negroni to the next level by introducing smoke into the mix — literally. Using a device known as the "smoking gun," actual smoke from Grand Marnier-soaked wood chips is blown into a decanter containing the cocktail, before it's sealed shut. As it makes the journey from bar to table, the liquid is imbued with the smoke — and the nostalgia of sitting around a childhood campfire. Each sip, smoky in the nose, bitter on the tongue, evokes a memory. 233 N Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills; (310) 888-8661.
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When it comes to modern takes on the Negroni, Hinoki & the Bird flies high above the rest, devoting an entire section of their menu to tweaked offerings. Although head mixologist Brandyn Tepper's rum-based Kingston is worthy of significant praise, his Harajuku wears the crown as the city's best alternative Negroni. Built around Japanese single malt whiskey and Byrrh — a 19th Century French aperitif recently reintroduced to the States for the first time since pre-prohibition — the balanced drink finishes with a hint something else. It's the chocolate mole bitters, which meld effortlessly with the exotic florals of Gran Classico. The only drawback? One is simply not enough. 10 W. Century Drive, Century City; 310-552-1200.