My Negroni search continues… This time in the beautiful city of Lucca, which is known for its medieval city walls, a hundred churches, Puccini, Boccherini, Paolini and many other famous artists. Located close to Pisa and near the Ligurian Sea, Lucca is a must-visit town in Tuscany.
There are, of course, many bars and restaurants in the city, so I decided to go on a search for the best Negroni in Lucca. The original Negroni is made with equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin (often London Dry), but there have been many variations over the years, with ingredients varying from tequila to Prosecco. During my research I have stuck to the classic to get the best results.
See my previous article – In Search of the Best Negroni in Florence
I am looking for balanced flavours between the gin, bitter (most commonly Campari) and sweet vermouth. Personally, I like the gin to be strong enough to cut through the rest of the ingredients, and it should be clearly juniper-forward. I also like a Negroni that has a clear bitter flavour and that is not too sweet. Obviously, there are always some fun twists on the classic, but for this article I have focused on the classic recipe. In many bars, you can request a different ingredient based on your taste, but I chose not to do so and just wanted to discover what these venues will serve when ordering a Negroni (or Negroni classico).
I have included six venues, but the search never really stops, as Lucca has many venues serving this classic Italian cocktail. You can also find more Negroni recommendations on my Instagram account. I will keep posting there as I sip many Negronis in various locations in Italy.
I’ve graded each Negroni as below:
1 Not my cup of Negroni
2 Needs improvement
3 It’s fine, but is fine enough for you?
4 Now you’re talking
5 Ultimate Negroni love
The venues in no particular order:
Magellano is a cute cocktail bar located in a small alleyway in the centre of Lucca. The design includes bare brick walls, leather sofas and even swings. The place has an antique feel. Magellano specialises in unique cocktail recipes, and the flavours can be a bit out there, so you never really know what to expect when you order a cocktail there, unless you order a classic like a Negroni or a Martini. Even then, they will give it their own twist using different gins and vermouths.
Some recipes change seasonally. To give you some examples, Silvae is made using brandy, truffle, sweet vermouth and smoky scotch. Assum cocktail has BBQ vodka, sour apple, elderflower liqueur and rice wine. Make sure to check their Instagram page as the team usually does some quite entertaining videos.
The Negroni I had was made with Carpano Classico Vermouth, Apium London Dry Gin, 40% ABV, and Campari. The gin is made in England and the main botanical is coriander, from which it also gets its name. Other botanicals include lavender, juniper, cubeb pepper, angelica, verbena and rosemary. It is a lighter, more delicate style of gin so I’m not sure it is best for a Negroni. Saying that, I found the Negroni enjoyable, but it wasn’t as bitter as I like it to be. The colour was closer to light orange than to red and there was a different kind of sweetness to it.
Verdict: 3 It’s fine, but is fine enough for you?
This is one of my favourite bars in Lucca. The music is always spot on, and the service is friendly. It’s mainly a cocktail bar but you can also find an excellent selection of whisky here.
The cocktail menu includes Negroni del Presidente (a mix of Martini Bitter Riserva, Punt e Mes, chinotto liqueur and grapefruit bitters), and a Boulevardier made with the addition of Johnny Walker Black Label and a touch of absinthe. It is dangerously delicious.
The classic, however, was made using Bombay Sapphire, Bitter Fusetti and Punt e Mes. Punt e mes means ‘one and a half’, which comes from the perfect balance between sweet and bitter – in this case one part of vermouth and half of chinchona. It is aromatic and herbal and, of course, very bitter with bitter orange and chinchona, yet at the same time quite sweet. I’m not a huge fan of Punt e Mes in a Negroni, although when paired right, it can work, especially when split with another vermouth.
Overall, this classic Negroni serve was a bit too intense for me with all that bitter and those herbal flavours. It tasted strong and punchy. I think if paired with another vermouth this could be a great cocktail as Bitter Fusetti has a nice balance of sweet rhubarb, herbs and a range of bitter components, including chinchona (which is probably the reason it clashes with Punt e Mes).
Verdict: 3 It’s fine, but is fine enough for you?
Tip: You will want to book ahead as it gets very busy after dinner. If you are alone or with a friend, book a seat at the bar so you can see all the bottles and chat with the bartenders. (Yes, they speak English too.)
3 Hotel Grand Universe
This is one of the fanciest hotels in Lucca, situated right by Piazza Napoleone. I used to like going there for a Martini before dinner, and they have pretty impressive whisky and rum selection. Unfortunately, the cocktails I had here last time fell short, big time. I guess the difference was that this time I didn’t dictate the choice of spirits used, all in the name of research.
The Negroni was the classic recipe that you tend to get in many places if you don’t request a different choice of gin… Gordon’s, Campari and Martini Rosso – sweet and lacking that extra punch due to the lower alcohol level of the gin. Gordon’s Gin, in my opinion, is not a great choice for Negroni as it is only 37.5% ABV and a tad too citrusy. Martini Rosso is Ok, but you could easily elevate it by choosing Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino, for example, which is AMAZING in a Negroni.
My next drink was a simple Margarita, but the bartender didn’t double strain it and just poured all the diluted ice into the Martini glass. I nearly fell off my chair!
Verdict: 2 Needs improvement
4 Living Concept Store
What a stunning décor this place has. There’s also a shop for all sorts of knick-knacks, clothing etc. Flowers on the wall, some exposed brickwork, stunning colour scheme… The location is not ideal as there is a car park in front of it, but you can watch people walking on the wall, which can be entertaining. Unfortunately, the drinks didn’t live up to the expectations.
The Negroni was made using Campari, Martini Rosso and Gin Tempesta. This is an Italian gin bottled at 42% ABV. The bartender told me it is similar to Hendrick’s Gin without the cucumber, which already makes me doubt its suitability for a Negroni. With more research I found out that this gin is sold at Lidl for only €7 a bottle! WHAAAT?! The botanical list includes green cardamom, iris flower, sweet orange, rose, sage leaves and cinnamon. It doesn’t sound that bad actually, but I really didn’t like the Negroni at all. The balance was all over the place and it tasted quite alcoholic. Perhaps the gin has a strong alcoholic taste on its own.
My next drink here was a Campari Spritz and I was served a dark-brown drink, which the waitress said was Campari Spritz. Obviously, it wasn’t. It turned out to be Punt e Mes instead of Campari…
I hope they will get their ducks in a row as the beautiful venue is wasted with ordinary drinks.
Verdict: 1 Not my cup of Negroni
5 Vinarkia della Pavona
A must-visit venue when in Lucca. It is cosy in winter and the outdoor areas are lovely at other times of the year. The front is good for people watching, but there is also a back garden with melon trees.
Mainly a wine bar, although they have a small, changing cocktail menu which always has delicious options, including a Negroni riff, often an infusion of some sort. All the classic cocktails I’ve tried here have been top notch. And cherry on top, they stock my favourite whisky Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dha!
Negroni classico was made with Beefeater, Cocchi and Campari. This is a solid recipe that works beautifully with enough bitterness balanced with the juniper-forward gin. I also had a tasty mezcal and coffee Negroni here.
Verdict: 4 Now you’re talking
Tip: Go here for an aperitivo, but make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment as it can get busy. Their food menu includes cheeses, meats, anchovies, veggie options, local pasta dishes and more.
6 Ciclo di Vino
You can find this bar in a small piazza with a few other bars (including a wine bar and a craft beer spot) and most evenings of the week the piazza gets mobbed. The crowd is reasonably young, though, so this may not be the most enjoyable spot for everyone, but still worth checking out.
When I paid for the drinks, they took an extra €2 per glass as a deposit. When you return your glasses, you get the deposit refunded.
This time our Negronis were made using a local sweet vermouth, Vermoon, and a local gin, Camellia, as well as Campari. I was really hoping this would be a winner as I always want to support local, but unfortunately, I don’t think they really worked well together.
Camellia Gin, 43% ABV, is made using Tuscan juniper, thyme, rosemary, cardamom and camellia flower, which is the ancient symbol of Lucca. Vermoon, 18% ABV, is a sweet vermouth created by a young, local winery Tenuta Lenzini. It is made using Merlot wine, where the grapes were harvested late in the season, creating a high sugar content. Vermoon is aged for 24 months in large barrels and infused with over 16 spices, many of which are foraged at full moon. It’s a very rich vermouth with notes of red berries, bitter orange, aromatic spices, medicinal herbs, balsamic, caramel and vanilla. Mainly designed for sipping rather than mixing.
The Negroni wasn’t balanced at all, with certain flavours being more dominant. Also, it was pretty sweet and punchy. As the venue gets so busy, they really rush the drinks service, so the cocktail wasn’t really stirred at all, which obviously intensified the flavours. A little dilution of the ice helps to bind the flavours together.
Verdict: 1 Not my cup of Negroni
When I last did my Negroni search in Florence, I was surprised by the lack of variety in gins used for Negroni. In Lucca, however, everyone seems to be using a different gin and/or vermouth, which is great as it offers much more variety for us drinkers. I like discovering new recipes and testing the serves these bars offer. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if all the recipe combinations work that well together (or perhaps I’m just a picky Negroni snob…). For example, the use of local brands is a great idea and helps to promote them, but if they don’t work well together, it would be better to use one or the other or create two variations.
When ordering a Negroni in Lucca, don’t be shy of asking for a specific vermouth or finding out which ingredients the bar is using to make it. Most places (unless it’s a basic café bar) tend to have a selection of gins and vermouths, sometimes even bitters, to choose from. Changing the ingredients may end up costing you a little extra, but it’s all about the quality.
There are still a few places on my list I wanted to add to this blog post but haven’t had time to visit. I will make sure to add and edit once I get a chance.
So far, my favourite Negroni (classico) in Lucca is at Vinarkia della Pavona.
Do you often request a certain Negroni recipe, or do you trust the bar to create their own version of the classic?