There is no better metaphor for Italian cocktails, than the fate of the Negroni origin bar

Right before I left for Italy, a reader sent me a note: “Please teach them how to make a Negroni.” I thought it was a joke, until I arrived.

Italy is well known throughout the cocktail world. In fact, a large part of why I went there was to research a new cocktail guide. What better place to start than the birthplace of the Aperol Spritz, the Bellini and perhaps most famously, the Negroni?

Venice is the birthplace of the Bellini. It is undisputed, unlike almost every other cocktail. The only thing in dispute is when. It was invented on the Venetian waterfront, a stone’s throw from St. Mark’s cathedral somewhere between 1934 and 1948. World War II makes exact timing problematic, as do the Italian politics of the time.

Indisputably, it was invented at Harry’s Bar by the bar’s owner, Giuseppe Cipriani. Made of puréed white peaches and Prosecco, Cipriani named it the Bellini because its light pink color reminded him of a painting by the Italian master. And you can still get it there, through the famous swinging saloon-style doors. Except for a few things.

Harry’s really hits the Cipriani name pretty hard. In fact, the menu and the front door as well as the QR code for the restaurant’s ordering system feature both names, with only the front door giving “Harry’s” prominence.

The traditional Bellini is just two ingredients: white peach and Prosecco. However, Harry’s/Cipriani’s current Bellini is quite pink, pinker than one can really get with just the skin of a puréed white peach. The flesh of a white peach is white but the skin is light pink, and that is where the color comes from. But Harry’s/Cipriani’s doesn’t let you see the ingredients used, and there is no photography allowed inside  — “in solidarity with Kodak workers” according to the menu, whatever that means — so verification and corroboration are hard to come by. And its Bellini costs $22, more than three times what a typical cocktail goes for in Italy. They ain’t no dummies, as the line of tourists waiting to pay for one — myself included — will attest. Beef Carpaccio was also invented there, or so they say, and a plate of the thinly sliced raw beef drizzled with Dijon mustard will set you back $42, an obscene amount compared to every other restaurant in Venice. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

I documented the Aperol Spritz in Wednesday’s Barfly column, so I won’t go into it again, just suffice it to say that some bar in Padua should have stepped up to the “origin” plate sooner because then they, too, could be tripling their gross.

Which brings us to the Negroni, the stalwart that has stood the test of time, While not as popular as the Aperol Spritz is in Italy, in its non-native country, the Negroni still dominates the Italian cocktail world. Ironic considering it was both a bastardization of the original Spritz, and a cocktail called the Americano.

The origin story of the Negroni goes that it was invented in 1919 at Caffé Casoni on Via Tornabuoni, just off the Arno river in Florence, where most of the main shopping areas are. An Italian count ordered an Americano (sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water) and asked the bartender to substitute gin for the soda water. Great story, except that it probably isn’t true. There was no Count Negroni at the time, and gin really wasn’t popular in Italy, then or now.

I decided to head over to the Caffé Casoni and find out for myself. Only Caffé Casoni doesn’t exist anymore. There are bars up and down Via Tornabuoni but at the corner of Via Tornabuoni and Via Della Spada, the site of the old Caffé Casoni, sits a Giorgio Armani outlet store. All that remains is a plaque on the side of the building. Via Tornabuoni is known as the most expensive street in Florence, so somebody is really missing the boat.

So, if you are going to Italy for cocktails bear in mind that things might not be what you expect, especially if you are looking for legacies. You need look no further than what happened with the legendary Negroni.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Harry’s/Cipriani’s Bar serves its very pink Bellini in a stemless champagne flute glass.

• Barrel-aged Negronis are all the rage, despite the fact that vermouth is a perishable wine and exposing it to oxygen hastens its demise.

• “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space,” wrote Orson Scott Card, the author of “Ender’s Game.”

• You can only teach someone if they are wont to learn.