Whether you’re an impassioned cocktail snob or just a New Yorker with an Instagram account, chances are 2016 brought you into contact with the Negroni. This crimson quaff experienced a renaissance in recent years, with Negroni weeks popping up across the country and photos of the ruby beauties littering news feeds. The vibrant drink has become an al fresco favorite during sweltering NYC summers, but how do you quench your Negroni thirst once the leaves fall?
Campari lovers, behold your hibernal go-to: the Boulevardier.
This cocktail adheres to the classic Negroni recipe, replacing gin with bourbon or rye whiskey. Where the former is bright, crisp, even jittery, the Boulevardier is smooth, cool, and mysterious. One is perfect for spontaneous summer flings, while the other invites you to settle into a leather armchair for an evening of juicy disclosure. If you love Negronis but need something richer to warm your bones, or if you’re partial to Manhattans but want a hint of bitterness, you have come to the right place.
The Boulevardier was first mentioned in a 1923 cocktail book by Harry McElhone, a former Plaza Hotel bartender who saw the puritanical writing on the wall and fled the country before Prohibition. McElhone discovered several European-made libations abroad, including Campari. He opened Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and published a few successful cocktail collections, crediting Erskinne Gwynne for always showing up at parties with this signature drink. Gwynne, an American ex-pat, ran his own literary journal in Paris (featuring early works from the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Thomas Wolfe), which he called — you guessed it — The Boulevardier.
Originally described by McElhone as equal parts whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Campari, the Boulevardier has evolved to suit more common palates that crave less viscosity and more booze (the sweetness of Campari and Vermouth don’t overwhelm when paired with bracing dry gin, but next to whiskey, the duo can overpower). Most bars now serve up a variation on the original, with two parts whiskey, one part vermouth, and one part Campari, but the modifications don’t end there.
In fact, they don’t even begin there.
In The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, the hotel’s current bar manager and cocktail historian Frank Caiafa speaks to the malleability of the drink’s basic structure. “The original Negroni is actually based on a variation itself,” he writes, “which omitted the gin and added club soda to become the Americano. And that is based on another variation, the Milano-Torino… it seems that this recipe was made to be modified and boy, does it take to it.”
This spirit of experimentation is alive in the Boulevardier. Aside from upping the whiskey, you can also sub in other bitter amari (Cynar, Zucca, Cardamaro, Gran Classico, or Suze — to name a few) for either half or all of the Campari serving. Try the drink with Punt e Mes, Cinzano Rosso, Cocchi Americano, or Carpano Antica in the sweet vermouth slot. Sub in dry vermouth instead of sweet and you’ll get another classic, the Old Pal. You can change up the whiskey, alternating between rye, bourbon, or even Scotch — the playing field is wide open.
If you want to try something new without becoming an amaro hoarder, there are plenty of bars showcasing their own interpretation of the Boulevardier. Find the classic at Midtown’s Hudson Malone and Cobble Hill’s Long Island Bar. Sip on the Barolo barrel-aged version at Lincoln Ristorante. Plenty of bars will gladly make the Boulevardier off-menu — including Schiller’s Liquor Bar on the Lower East Side, Extra Fancy in Williamsburg, and Walter’s in Fort Greene. At Dante, a Village bar repping a deep roster of weird liquor and well-known for riffing on Negronis, you can dream up enough Boulevardier variations to have Erskinne Gwynne spinning in his grave — or just wishing he could come party with you.
2 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 orange or lemon peel
Pour all liquid ingredients into a tumbler 2/3 full of ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or a rocks glass full of ice (to your preference). Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon.