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Drink Like an Italian

December 05, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

photos: Italicus

Drink Like an Italian

December 05, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

photos: Italicus

In New York, Miami and Las Vegas, bars are blending local inspiration with global tradition. Here are two dozen that put their signature spin on aperitivo.

At a time when having a drink at your favorite bar is as much an act of civic duty as it is a pleasure, the notion of “drinking local” acquires new meaning. Which is why, for the Glo-Cal Edition of their aperitivo challenge, Italicus is calling on bartenders to “think global with local ingredients,” and challenging them to create an aperitivo cocktail built around a key ingredient emblematic of their city alongside the bergamot Rosolio liqueur that celebrates native Italian herbs and aromatics.

The resulting cocktails are love letters to Italy’s singular ingredients and drinking culture and to the distinctive regions these bartenders hail from. Below, drink your way through the aperitivo hubs of New York, Las Vegas and Miami, to experience for yourself the transportive nature of the Italian way of drinking.

New York City

BAR BÊTE
Upon entering this buzzy Carroll Gardens joint, guests are greeted by a French-Canadian menu with a Japanese tint, an edgy soundtrack and a short but satisfying drink menu. The tight cocktail list offers three choices, including the Citrus from Ace Hotel alum Steven Kincade, which combines blueberries and bergamot into a cold-weather-ready highball. “I wanted to keep the beautiful, bright flavors of blueberries into winter,” he says. “And no better way to do that than to make a shrub.”

Cocktail: Citrus
Bar Bête | @barbetebk
Steven Kincade | @sakincade001

DIAMOND DOGS
“The ‘Diamond Dogs’ name was originally going to be just a cocktail, but I wanted to sexy up the neighborhood a little bit,” says co-owner Nick Elezovic, of naming his Astoria bar after the 1974 David Bowie album. Diamond Dogs is the type of place where both locals and non come for a friendly night out. The music references run deep here, as with the Tomorrow’s Dream, a Black Sabbath–inspired drink that sees equal parts gin, Italicus, red vermouth and a full-bodied New York apple brandy, all united by bitters and a splash of saline. “My approach was to try to 50/50 a 50/50 Martini,” says Elezovic. Pro tip: They don’t serve food here, but you’re encouraged to bring in your own from any of a number of winning options nearby.

Cocktail: Tomorrow’s Dream
Diamond Dogs | @diamonddogsnyc
Nick Elezovic | @smoocher1969

FINBACK
At its “beverage studio” in Gowanus, Finback Brewery has branched out into the production of both coffee and spirits, under the labels Invisible Force and Halftone Spirits, respectively. Giuseppe Santochirico heads up the experimental cocktail program that puts to use those in-house ingredients. “As [with] Finback’s beers, Halftone’s gins play also on the thin line between innovation and tradition,” says Santochirico, who brings a similar approach to his drinks. The New Wave, what he calls a “hybrid G&T,” is made from a clarified gin- and Italicus-based milk punch that’s topped with tonic water and an Earl Grey mist; the end result is clearly reminiscent of the classic but, happily, drinks like something entirely novel.

Cocktail: New Wave
Finback Brewery | @finbackbrewery
Giuseppe Santochirico | @gsantochirico

JUNIPER
To save yourself from frantically Googling “cocktail bar near Penn Station” ever again, bookmark Juniper, which is exactly that, with the added bonus of being a worthy destination in its own right. Tucked away on 35th Street, the unassuming bar is home to a gastropub-style menu that has something for everyone. The cocktail list, too, includes pleasant surprises, like the Itali-Spritz, an easy-drinking take on the format with grapefruit juice, Italicus and gin from New York Distilling Company, poured from a barrel purchased directly from the Williamsburg gin-makers.

Cocktail: Itali-Spritz
Juniper | @junipernyc
Mike Pernicano and Korine Barlas | @korinebarlas

KIMIKA
A restaurant opening during a pandemic is noteworthy; one becoming an in-demand dining destination during a pandemic deserves a standing ovation. At Kimika, the Nolita darling from the folks behind Wayla and Bar Chuko, the elegant Japanese-Italian menu is accompanied by a list of equally complex and satisfying drinks that complement the fusion of flavors being served at the table. Try the Cider Spritz, which pairs the warming, candied notes of Dimmi liqueur with acidic apple cider vinegar and floral Italicus, in a slightly subversive homage to the sparkling apple cider central to family gatherings.

Cocktail: Cider Spritz
Kimika | @kimika.nyc
Greg Kong | @gukong

OLIO E PIÙ
A Village staple, Olio e Più has been bringing the essence of Naples to Greenwich Ave. for just over a decade. No need to break new ground here: Just pair that pizza with a spritz, either the classic version or a new addition called the Giardino, a floral combination of Cinzano and Italicus topped, of course, with prosecco.

Cocktail: Giardino
Olio e Più | @olioepiu
Jelena Batinic | @jecci_jessie_

TALK STORY
This Williamsburg rooftop bar gets its name from a colloquial Hawaiian saying that means to pass time chatting with friends. It brings a languid, tropical vibe to McCarren Park by way of influences from Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean. Drinks like the Dragonfly (gin, aquavit and clarified citrus infused with the flavor of dragonfruit and black pepper “dust”) go down easy, and encourage an afternoon spent doing just what the venue’s name commands.

Cocktail: Dragonfly
Talk Story | @talkstoryrooftop
Crystal Chasse | @sassy_chasse

ULIVO
The drink list at Flatiron’s Ulivo—a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant with leanings toward chef Emanuel Concas’ native Sardinia—makes its priorities known by highlighting two sections devoted to Negronis and Aperitivi. In taking their lead, we’d encourage you to try the aperitivo-ready Gin-Zilla, a ginger-orange-bergamot concoction that was inspired by beverage director Antonello Iacca’s morning marmalade croissant (though it’s better suited to postmeridian hours).

Cocktail: Gin-Zilla
Ulivo | @ulivo_trattoria_pastificio
Antonello Iacca | @anto_iacca

LAS VEGAS

GAETANO’S RISTORANTE
Though Gaetano Palmeri himself no longer graces the dining room at this off-strip gem, his legacy of warm hospitality and exacting tastes lives on through his menu of Northern Italian classics while his son, Nick, continues to run operations. The youngest Palmeri’s particular love of Italian spirits and liqueurs runs through the roster of cocktails, which features offerings like The Royal Spritz, an Italicus- and Cognac-driven drink that’s an elegant homage to the family’s Italian heritage—that still reads distinctly Vegas.

Cocktail: The Royal Spritz
Gaetano’s Ristorante | @gaetanosristorante.lv
Nick Palmeri | @theamarolife

LA STREGA
In Summerlin, La Strega is an oasis of familiar Italian cooking with inventive twists from chef Gina Marinelli. You could snag a table to enjoy your pizza with za’atar-spiced crab or pink pumpkin soup, but we recommend pulling up to the inviting bar, dressed up in an airy palette of nudes and pale greens, for a Gloria cocktail, a tart, vegetal spritz topped with Berliner Weisse.

Cocktail: Gloria
La Strega | @lastregalv
Ivonne Moy | @magicalprincesssparkles

MONZÚ
At Monzú, Roman-style pizza is the thing. Made from long-fermented dough, the starter at the heart of every pie was brought over from the Amalfi island of Ischia, whose waters have long been storied to contain healing properties. With a whole section devoted to the spritz (to be ordered by the glass or pitcher), the drink menu is similarly restorative. Other inventive cocktails lean into kitchen-driven flavors and ingredients, like the housemade grilled lemon sour mix found in the Grape Thymes, a combination of grappa, Italicus, muddled grapes and thyme, all lengthened with lemon soda.

Cocktail: Grape Thymes
Monzú | @monzulv
Chris Militello | @cody_badody

NORTH ITALIA
At the Vegas outpost of North Italia, bartender Janell Grady serves up cocktails inspired by both Italian flavors and those that are distinctly Vegas. “Wild rosemary grows everywhere throughout the Las Vegas Valley,” Grady says, including in her own garden, which is where she and her daughter pick the herbs that go into the housemade rosemary syrup at the base of the Purple Rain. Butterfly pea flower extract, infused into Italicus liqueur, gives the drink its name-appropriate hue.

Cocktail: Purple Rain
North Italia | @eatnorthitalia
Janell Grady | @inarush2go_nowhere

OAK & IVY
Inside a repurposed shipping container in the maze of the Downtown Container Park lurks a sleek cocktail bar whose approach wouldn’t be out of place in New York or London. Oak & Ivy prides itself on its barrel-aged cocktails, Moscow Mule variations and whiskey drinks, but don’t sleep on the section of the menu simply labeled “creations,” the likes of which include the Tropic Hustle, a tiki-leaning shaken cocktail fueled by Italicus, amontillado sherry and an oolong oleo saccharum.

Cocktail: Tropic Hustle
Oak & Ivy | @oakandivydtlv
Gregory Rodriguez | @gregoryrre


OSTERIA FIORELLA
Marc Vetri arrived in Las Vegas this past summer, bringing the Italian flavors that have become his signature at Philadelphia’s Fiorella to a pop-up in the Red Rock Resort. As of September, the pop-up has transformed into the permanent home of Osteria Fiorella, a more expansive venue than its South Philly sibling in both size and scope. The cocktail list is driven by amari and bittersweet liqueurs, such as the Bergamotto Spritz—a nod to Vetri’s training in Bergamo and the bergamot flavors found in the bubbly drink, designed to be enjoyed on the sprawling patio.

Cocktail: Bergamotto Spritz
Osteria Fiorella | @osteriafiorella
Kane Campos | @unklekane


THE BLACK SHEEP
In the Southwest, this little restaurant from a crew of DB Brasserie alums is drawing diners from all over town. Though driven by Jamie Tran’s approachable, high-low Vietnamese-American cooking (inspired in part by the family meals she was cooking at DBB), The Black Sheep’s cocktail program is not to be overlooked, with offerings like the Desert Cooler—an effervescent mix of Italicus, blanco tequila and a cucumber-aloe juice that reminds bartender Jamie Clark of the “cool vibes” of the Las Vegas desert.

Cocktail: Desert Cooler
The Black Sheep | @blacksheepvegas
Jamie Clark | @spiritedjamie


THE GOLDEN TIKI

The Golden Tiki is a rendition of the classic ’70s-era tiki bar—on steroids. This place delivers high-wattage kitsch in every nook, cranny and coaster, along with a drink menu of the usual suspects plus a handful of originals. Try the Diana Ross, which sees Italicus shaken with rhum agricole, lime and lemongrass oleo saccharum, then topped with locally sourced edible glitter.

Cocktail: Diana Ross
The Golden Tiki | @goldentiki
Adam Rains | @fortheloveofthecraft / @tikirains

Miami

CASA TUA
Part Italian restaurant, part member’s club—is there anything more Miami than the likes of Casa Tua? A meal in the secluded garden oasis is best paired with an Italo Spritz, inspired by the “peculiar” citrus native to the Florida Keys islands—Key limes. “When it comes to the Florida Keys, [it] is impossible not to think about Ernest Hemingway,” says bartender Cristian Gomez. “So I decided to twist the notorious Hemingway’s Daiquiri with Italicus and my local ingredients.”

Cocktail: Italo Spritz
Casa Tua | @casatualife
Cristian Gomez | @gomita70

CHEF ADRIANNE’S
Chef Adrianne Calvo may have moved over to The Palms at Town and Country, but, aside from the larger space and addition of a burrata bar (!), much will feel familiar to her devoted fans. That includes the drink menu from Corporate Executive Chef and Director of Mixology Eglis Siu, whose culinary background lends itself to ingredient-driven cocktails that often hint at her heritage. In the Summer in Rome, she pairs the herbal notes and floral aromatics of Italicus with a supporting cast of gin and Bitter Bianco, while a garnish of Cuban coffee beans pays homage to her home country.

Cocktail: Summer in Rome
Chef Adrianne’s | @chefadrianne
Eglis Siu | @eggandthecity

MACCHIALINA
At buzzy Macchialina, on the west side of South Beach, John Cooper heads up the curated bar program. Half-bottles of wine for half price (served in carafe) are a major draw, as are the cocktails, whose playful profiles and names belie their caliber. For instance, the Soda di Agrumi: equal parts Italicus, Oxley gin and acid-adjusted grapefruit juice, topped with soda. “Italicus has a really magnificent citrus aroma and taste, with a subtle bitterness that holds it up,” says Cooper. The end result is complex, but “very drinkable.”

Cocktail: Soda di Agrumi
Macchialina | @macchialina
John Cooper | @chroniclesbycooper

MICHAEL’S GENUINE
At this Design District mainstay, a courtyard seat is the place to see and be seen. People-watching here is best accompanied by A Guava on 40th, bartender Jorge Hernandez’s play on the French 75. Juice from local guavas, with their “peculiar bitter and sour notes,” is paired with Italicus’ bergamot nose, while a spray of rose water adds a “more Miami twist” to the classic French aperitif.

Cocktail: A Guava on 40th
Michael’s Genuine | @michaelsgenuine
Jorge Hernandez | @drinksbyandres

PORTOSOLE
At this new Coral Gables hotspot, bartender and Miami native Alejandro Sanchez was inspired by the history of blueberry cultivation in Florida to create the Secret Garden, a refreshing gin- and Italicus-based cocktail infused with berries, chamomile, herbs and orchid essence.

Cocktail: Secret Garden
Portosole | @portosolemiami
Alejandro Sanchez | @alex_sanchezz13

REDFISH
In Matheson Hammock Park, the historic Redfish Grill has been re-opened by chef Adrianne Calvo with a menu of fish house classics (think: crab cakes, tartare) alongside cocktails created with intention by the chefs. Ingredient-driven drinks are the happy result, like the heady Sour Passion, created by Calvo herself and fueled by passion fruit pulp, gin and Italicus liqueur.

Cocktail: Sour Passion
Redfish | @redfishmiami
Adrianne Calvo | @chefadrianne

SWEETWATER
The Boynton Beach bar has been a player on the Miami cocktail scene since 2011 and continues to make a name for itself with easy-yet-unexpected drinks like the Summer Is a State of Mind, which sees Italicus and bianco vermouth shaken with coconut water and lime and topped with prosecco. “I wanted to evoke the light-spirited nature of using low-ABV ingredients to keep the day and night going longer,” says founder Sean Iglehart.

Cocktail: Summer Is a State of Mind
Sweetwater | @sweetwater33
Sean Iglehart | @sean.iglehart

VISTA
With its Instagram-friendly raclette fries, vibe-making greenhouse décor and a notable cocktail list from Beverage Director Josue Villacis, it’s little wonder that this bar in Buena Vista draws endless crowds. Best paired with a coveted seat on the rooftop is the Paraiso, a grappa-based drink with floral Italicus, rich açaí liqueur and a syrup made from local ginger and honey, a heady combination that evokes Miami’s tropical clime.

Cocktail: Paraiso
Vista | @vistamiami
Josue Villacis | @_villacis

Tagged: aperitivo, italicus