24 October 2012

n.d.p. in milan: bar basso

Seeking to wring every last drink out of my brief stay in Milan, I arranged to meet my friend and host M for last call at Bar Basso, a proudly classic, slightly hokey cocktail bar famous for being the birthplace of possibly my favorite cocktail, the Negroni Sbagliato, or wrong Negroni.

The Negroni Sbagliato is simply a Negroni made with prosecco instead of gin. Just Campari, dry vermouth, and prosecco. I was introduced to the drink just a few years ago at a restaurant called Dell'Anima in the West Village, whose proprietor Joe Campanale has had great success with a variation involving roasted orange.

The cocktail's genesis story - all successful cocktails have at least one - is that Bar Basso's proprietor's father was mixing a Negroni and grabbed the wrong bottle, presumably realising his error when the ostensible gin bubbled and fizzed. The cocktail thus born is buoyant, bitter, immensely refreshing, and notably less inebriating than a classic Negroni, therefore ideally suited to endless aperitivo hours. It's also completely idiot-proof, with the exception of one time in Paris when I received it in a piddling frouffy champagne flute, which seemed gravely wrong at the time. Then again, before visiting Bar Basso and seeing how a Negroni Sbagliato was served by its originators, how was I to know ?

Despite having occurred almost entirely within the 20th century, cocktail culture constitutes a field of deeply murky historiography, probably because most bartenders are not methodical record keepers. Yet, as far as I know, Bar Basso's claim to the Negroni Sbagliato remains more or less unchallenged. More impressive even than the drink itself is how the legend of a single successful drink can sustain a bar over generations. It's a narrative feat, more than anything.

I say this because, at least on the dead Thursday evening when M and I visited, Bar Basso had very little else to recommend itself. It wasn't inexpensive. Advertisements for cruddy Champagne brands told me it had no wine of interest. Lighting was oppressive on the interior. Among the bartenders I did not recognise the proprietor, Maurizio Stocchetto; the dry, middle-aged fellows present looked like they'd strolled, fully uniformed, out of a Kafka chapter.

The drink itself was perfect, and precisely what I expected, which is to say it was something I could have just as easily made myself at home. My interest only piqued when the table of natives beside me received their Negroni Sbagliati, which, I couldn't fail to notice, came in enormous goblets built for the hands of God.

The implication here is that even at the bar of its birth, the Negroni Sbagliato is subject to variations and differences of presentation. I would say this is typically Italian, but it's also typical of cocktail culture in general. The highlight of the night came when one of these men, in the course of gesticulating wildly, whacked his huge glass off the table and got Negroni Sbagliato all over the pavement, whereupon one of the impassive bartenders promptly appeared from the interior with a broom.

Bar Basso
Via Plinio, 39
20129 MILAN
Tel: 02 2940 0580

Related Links:

A fascinating account of a very different evening at Bar Basso, when it hosted an event during the design fair Salone del Mobile @ DeDeCeBlog
More on that same event @ DesignMarketo
A blurb on Bar Basso @ Mr.Lucky
A small piece on a visit to Bar Basso @ Nightcapped
A Frank Bruni piece on the Negroni Sbagliato @ NYTimes

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