by Marco Gemelli, Federico Bellanca, ph. Luca Managlia
The important anniversary celebrated at Harry’s Bar Florence
There are stories which seem to have been made purposely to inspire novelists. Stories of extraordinary lives, rich in twists and unexpected passages, with surprising epilogues. The story of count Camillo Negroni, born and died on the banks of the Arno (1868 – 1934) is one of these. That’s right, because if the beginning and the end of his saga took place right here in the Tuscan capital, all that lies in between is an extraordinary journey which, after one hundred years, still fascinates lovers of mixed drinks. Even after a century from his birth, indeed, the cocktail bearing his name has lost nothing of its international appeal and is confirmed as the second most popular drink in the world after the “Old Fashioned”.
Everything started in Florence where the count Negroni was born into a noble family, Italian father and British mother, Ada Savage Landor, daughter of the poet Walter Savage Landor. Romantic and restless, he got into trouble for sentimental reasons at a young age and – as was the custom at that time – was forced to leave to save his honour. Here is where his journey starts: in Wyoming as a cow-boy, at New York teaching fencing and in London amongst the high society. A real and true cosmopolitan training which brings him to Florence once more after years, enriched with experience and good taste. And new things, as his tastes soon showed in drinks. At a time when everybody ordered the most fashionable drinks, that is the Vermouth from Turin and the Bitter from Milan, count Camillo convinced a young bartender, we would call barman today, Fosco Scarselli to add the very British Gin. A homage to his travels and his origins, who knows, but what is certain is the result: in a short time this version of the “Americano” conquered other clients. It was 1919 when this cocktail was served for the first time, and today, precisely one century later – all over the world, it is still called with his name: a Negroni, please.
And if the success of his creation has travelled more than count Camillo, the centenary will be celebrated in every cocktail bar of the planet but especially in the city where he was born. The historic Caffè Casoni, later Giacosa, where the cocktail had its origins no longer exists but in order to understand Negroni’s cultural impact, there is no better place than Harry’s Bar in Florence, maybe the place where the continuity between the count’s epoch and ours can be felt most. It is the ‘reign’ of the barman Thomas Martini, who, each day from behind the counter, keeps tradition high. “The name Negroni is now more famous than the story of its creator, “ he explains, “and it is the duty of us Florentine barmen to be creators of culture in this regard. Here, at Harry’s Bar we have a very international clientele and every time I can, I tell the story of the count. It is enough to mention a few hints of his life and his intuition to make people change their order but mostly to create an eternal memoir, rich in charm for holidaymakers who know to have drunk the most Florentine of cocktails just a few steps away from where it was born.”