“You don’t really want me to leave, do you?”
“I’m pretty sure I do,” I said. “I’d like to be alone.”
“After what happened?” he said. “I thought we could talk. You know, if you needed to.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You’ve had a traumatic experience. People need to talk after traumatic experiences,” he said
I didn’t think I needed to talk. But maybe I needed a distraction. I felt my resolve giving way.
He moved toward the cocktail bar and picked up a bottle of Campari. “Negroni?”
“Thanks,” I said, resistance gone. “Well played, sir.”
He did make an excellent Negroni. And he had made it clear, he wasn’t going anywhere.
— Stardusted, Chapter Four
Back in the days when we could still get together with friends for drinks at a restaurant or bar (I am writing this while in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, and no one with common sense has gone anyplace crowded for months), I used to find myself dithering when the server asked what I would like. I’ll admit to letting it figure into my decision what the drink would say about me–how’s that for shallow? Why not just order something I liked?
Trouble was, I didn’t really know what I liked in the way of cocktails. I didn’t come from a family that drank them–well, except for Aunt Adeline and Uncle Whitey, whose parties featured a constantly running blender turning out pale green Grasshoppers … unless it was Pink Squirrels. Not exactly classics; at least not since the ‘60s.
My mom didn’t drink and my dad liked beer until he discovered the Tom Collins –which, from the recipe I just now looked up, seems to be basically gin-spiked lemonade.
Anyway, these memories did nothing to help when I was standing or sitting there and my friends were ordering glasses of white wine or gins-and-tonics or whatever. What did I want? What did I like?
I needed, I figured, a signature cocktail. Like when you think of the gals on Sex and the City, you think Cosmopolitans (pardon me, but, ugh). Like when you think of James Bond you think of martinis, shaken not stirred (now we’re talking). Like when you think of Hunter S. Thompson you think of rivers of Wild Turkey (that might be going a bit far).
Maybe 11 or 12 years ago, I decided to go about this logically. I remembered a friend who liked to drink Campari and sodas, and I remembered I also liked the rather bitter liqueur when he’d let me taste it. So I started looking up “cocktails with Campari.” And that’s how the Negroni entered my life.
Bitter and sweet, cold and bracing, it’s one of those cocktails that forces you to take it slowly, and savor it. And it’s so strong that unless you’re in total self-destruct mode, you know you can only have one of them, especially if there’ll be wine with dinner.
We bought Campari, we bought gin, we bought sweet vermouth. And my husband, ace amateur mixologist, whipped up a Negroni for me. Love at first sip. I had found my signature drink.
Usually I’m behind the curve on trends but it turned out I was just slightly ahead of the Negroni curve. I would often ask for a Negroni at a restaurant only to find out they had no Campari.
That’s hardly a problem anymore. (The Daily Beast has an excellent story about the rise of the Negroni–and gets extra points for somehow working Patrick Stewart into the piece.)
And when I decided my heroine Frankie Franklin needed a signature drink, too, it seemed only fitting we should share this one. Since it was invented before 1920, it was certainly something a sophisticated young star would know about–especially one whose cowboy father knew its inventor, the Florentine Count Camillo Negroni, who spent some time cowboying himself. (You can see why research is so captivating.)
And of course Max, Frankie’s significant other, also makes a mean Negroni. Like this:
THE NEGRONI COCKTAIL
1-¼ ounces Campari
1-¼ ounces sweet vermouth
1-¼ ounces gin
Combine the Campari, vermouth and gin in a an old-fashioned or rocks glass, with ice. At this point you can either serve it right in that glass or strain it into another glass, stemmed or not, preferably chilled. Garnish with an orange twist. My husband, being an artist, sometimes peels a lemon, instead, in one continuous strip and fashions it into a rose-shaped garnish. (Yep, he’s a keeper.)