5 Classic Negronis to Seek Out in San Francisco

By Virginia Miller  |  June 5, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

What type of gin? Which vermouth? Campari or Gran Classico? On the rocks or up? Lemon peel or no? Although a Negroni seems simple enough, there are endless variations on the classic combination of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. And it's amazing how hard it can be to find a good one and how vehement the debate can become among Negroni lovers as to what constitutes "perfect" (there's now the Northern California Negroni Council, certifying bars all over the region that make a "proper" Negroni).

Arguments aside, San Francisco has long been a Negroni town. Local bartenders have always loved its bitter refreshment and the drink has gone mainstream on many cocktail menus around the city in the past few years. As Negroni Week barrels on with four more nights to drink for charity, we're tackling the impossible: we've singled out 5 of the best Negronis you can sip in San Francisco. These favorites were all chosen for different reasons, including atmosphere, longevity and skillful preparation. Seek them out:

A 1930's Movie-Style Backdrop
Recalling the supper clubs of the '30s and 40s, as if you stepped into The Thin Man movies, Bix is a longtime San Francisco classic, romantically tucked in an alley with nightly live jazz, high ceilings and steak tartare prepared tableside. They've been churning out Negronis since 1988 and this is one of the classiest places to drink them.

Prohibition Era Meets The Modern Day
More true to history than many newer bars, Comstock Saloon's restored 1907 space is lovingly evocative of that era even before the Negroni was invented. Still they serve an exemplary version of the classic, along with other old-school favorites (Old Fashioneds, Vespers, etc.) backed up by live jazz, slowly revolving ceiling fans and a wood-burning stove.

Classic Sips in a Waterside Setting
So the water views aren't seen directly from the restaurant, but you're just a stones' throw from the Bay in Sausalito's longtime great Italian restaurant. For over 30 years, bartender Tony "Negroni" Diiorio has been serving his beloved Negronis at Poggio Trattoria with charm and ease.

Old-School Italian-American
Original Joe's has a long history in San Francisco dating back to 1937. In its more recent location, the romance of North Beach and Washington Square Park up the ante for an old school, Italian-American meal the Rat Pack would have enjoyed. Stiff $6-9 cocktails make platters of eggplant parm and veal Milanese even more fun to dig into while you're tucked into one of the dining room's giant, red booths. Better yet, Joe's Negroni features local gin great, Junipero, from Anchor Distilling

Low-Key Perfection
Sometimes 15 Romolo is mobbed, sometimes it's refreshingly mellow. But it remains a spot where cocktail geeks can find a perfect sip in a setting that recalls the old world without the fuss. And, yes, they know how to make a proper Negroni. It tastes even better set to your picks from the jukebox.