When the Bellagio Hotel opened in Las Vegas in 1998, most visitors couldn't wait to try their hand at the tables. I couldn't have cared less. I was falling in love with a drink called the Negroni. The 3,933-room, showplace Steve Wynn property with the dancing fountain had just opened, and I was privileged to follow hotel mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim from bar to bar as he diligently checked the drink's proportions and made sure the orange peel garnish was flamed just right. (That thin slice of peel should never simply be dropped in the drink.)
The Negroni was invented in the 1920s at the Casoni Bar in Florence, Italy, where a bartender added gin to an Americano (a mix of sweet vermouth and Campari), and is every bit as bewitching today. I have managed to sample Negronis since moving to Seattle, but rarely see them or many other gin-based drinks (besides the omnipresent you-know-what) on menus. "People are scared to go outside their box. They don't want to try something new, and that holds back the gin-based drinks," says William Doherty at Belltown's Bada Lounge. Still, he mixes a Pegú, made with Tanqueray and Cointreau, and a Jasmine (Bombay Sapphire, Cointreau, and Campari, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Negroni). Both drinks are $9.
Gin's flavor "complexity can be a drawback if you are not careful with it," cautions Perryn Wright, bar manager at Ballard's Fu Kun Wu. The watering hole's Chinese-apothecary theme inspired the bar's Radiant Flower ($7), made with Bellringer gin infused with schisandra berry (an herb) and white peony.
Gin's "aromatics enhance the senses and excite the taste buds," explains Bruce Sturgeon, bar manager and beverage director at Wild Ginger and the Triple Door downtown. Both restaurants feature the High Note ($6.50), made with Beefeater and fresh mint. "Growing up in the Northwest, the smell of pine shouldn't scare too many people off."
So all right, some of you have covered your gin drink bases. Now could I see a Negroni or two on a list? I don't want my home bar to have an exclusive on one of the best drinks in town. Feel free to give me a call or drop me an e-mail—I'll be happy to stop by and show you how to flame an orange peel.