Hoighty Toighty at Booker + Dax ($15)
Champagne Negroni at Saxon + Parole ($14)
At Saxon + Parole, Beefeater, Campari, and sweet vermouth are carbonated and then topped with Champagne, for a drink with all the bitter-sweet appeal of a Negroni but the lift of a Campari-soda. I find negronis refreshing enough as-is, but carbonate them and float with bubbly, and they're even more drinkable. (Especially when you can order them a bucket at a time.)
Roasted Orange Negroni Sbagliato and Carciofo Aromatico at dell'Anima ($14; $12)
Joe Campanale seems to have a thing for Negronis—dell'Anima, L'Artusi, and L'Apicio all have some take on the cocktail. My favorite for spring has been the guy in the foreground, with the intense, concentrated flavor of roasted orange muddled in with Campari and Carpano Antica, with sparkling wine to fill. The Carciofo Aromatico, in the background, takes a more bitter path, with Cynar, Cinzano Bianco, and fennel-infused Beefeater adding an anise-y, herbal bite.
Sharpie Mustache at Amor y Amargo ($12)
You can't write about a classic bitter cocktail and not mention New York's preeminent bitters bar. One of the more popular drinks on the menu, the cheekily named Sharpie Mustache, includes both rye and gin in its base, with grassy, herbal Bonal and the slightly floral Meletti amaro to round it out. On first sip, there's a light sweetness that, together with Bittermen's tiki bitters, immediately recalls those Coke bottle gummy candies—yes, seriously—before the bitter elements cut it off. There's nothing candylike about the drink itself, but I love the bit of sweet spiciness up front.
Negroni Bar at Lincoln ($15)
What's better than a great Negroni? A whole menu of great Negronis. At uptown Italian restaurant Lincoln, you can mix and match elements for a cocktail made to your liking. There's a selection of gins, and Charbay blood orange vodka, as the spirit base; expected Campari, Cynar, and Aperol, with less well-known aperitif bitters including the American-made Breckenridge Bitters Liqueur; and a selection of aperitif wines, with classic vermouths and Lillet and Cocchi Americano in there for good measure. Opt for it straight up, on the rocks, or with a Prosecco float.
Don't worry, the bartenders are there to counsel and make sure you don't end up with something unfortunate. On a recent visit, I was quite pleased with my Bluecoat gin–Aperol—Cocchi Americano Rosa, aromatic and almost floral before the bitter backbone hits.
Beet Negroni at Parm ($12)
A longtime favorite of ours, managing to be equal parts beet and Negroni with no clash at all. Gordon's gin gets infused with beets in cryovac bags to develop a robust beet-iness. Carpano Antica rounds out the already sweet profile of the beet juice, plus Campari for that slight bitterness and an extra flash of red.
Bourbon Negroni at Red Rooster ($15)
Buffalo Trace bourbon is poured over dried figs and allowed to infuse for several days. The infusion adds aroma but not much sweetness—this is still a seriously bitter and strong drink. The rest is all classic Negroni/Boulevardier: Campari and Carpano Antica, finished with a squeeze of orange oil.
Tornado Country at Perla ($13)
Perry’s Glass-Bottom Boat and the Sauvetage at the Shanty ($11)
I've only had beautifully composed cocktails at The Shanty, the bar attached to the New York Distilling Company. And given that gin is the only liquor of their own they're selling these days (rye is still aging), it's no surprise they're making some killer gin cocktails. Two in particular recall the Negroni: There's the dangerously drinkable Sauvetage (left), with Dorothy Parker gin, Carpano, and the gentiane Amer Sauvage as the bitter element; it's shaken with just enough grapefruit juice to enliven it, one step up from a sparing citrus twist. The neon-yellow Perry’s Glass-Bottom Boat (right) is a bit more aggressive, but still balanced—Navy Strength Gin with Avèze and Yellow Chartreuse contributing the herbal and bitter elements, Lillet Blanc to smooth it out.
Born Under A Star at Goldbar ($13)
A mezcal Negroni, with Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, Carpano, and Campari... that's been infused with salt pork. I'm generally skeptical of the whole pig-and-booze trend, but here it works—mezcal's smoky, savory element pairs smartly with the slight pigginess, which hits you only at the end. Bittersweet Campari hits you first, fading into smoke, fading into the faintest suggestion of swine. I'm holding onto my skepticism, but this is a pork-tinged cocktail I can get behind.
Today Is My Lucky Day at Manon ($14)
This soon-to-open Meatpacking District restaurant (expect an opening in early May) features a cocktail list from Aaron Polsky, of Amor y Amargo and Neta. His latest experiment? Trying to capture the flavors of warm liquids, namely coffee or tea, in booze. "Most drinks with a coffee element just taste like stale coffee to me," Polsky says. His method? Making coffee the way he likes it, carefully topping it with a cap of barely-melted Crisco, and allowing that fat cap to absorb the aromatics. Then, he fat-washes Blackwell rum with the coffee-infused Crisco, such that none of the fat makes it into the final product—it's just a vehicle for the coffee. (Got that?)
That rum and Gosling's then form the base of a stirred drink with Dolin dry vermouth, Luxardo Bitter, and Bittercube Cherry-Bark Vanilla bitters. On first whiff it's all coffee, those flavors then falling back into the rum's dark, rich sweetness, balanced by the Luxardo. Sounds involved, but the flavors are focused and polished, elements of sweet and bitter working together beautifully.