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Negronis in the Desert
WORDS: Slate Olson
The Rapha and Giro partnership was clinched by the third or possibly fourth round (I can't quite recall) of Negronis in a corner booth of King's Highway, a former Denny's Diner transformed to a classic dive bar. This bar is part of the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Desert, CA. You may know it, you may not, but you'll kindly see that this was no ordinary occasion.
After a long and haphazard day of riding in Joshua Tree National Park for the Spring'11 photo shoot, we (Simon Mottram and Slate Olson) were running late for a meeting with Mr. Fisher and Horton, the two men responsible for Giro's astronomic projection into the world of Footwear. We wanted to simply break some ice, talk about research and development, and maybe learn some more about footwear design. We couldn't have foreseen how the discussion might land us where it did. From this dimly lit booth came forth something even better than another round of Negronis.
Sliding off a long week and a short flight through the dusk from San Jose, Fisher and Horton quickly opened up, fuelled by a mix of desert air and delicious, Italian-style beverages. Even though these men were at the centre of the successful launch of Giro into the footwear business - where they had much more demand than anticipated - these two had no real business even talking about doing anything with Rapha. Instead they were wanting and willing to push beyond their processes once more to re-invent the Giro Factor, a shoe that was already expanding the horizon.
The adjectives and gesticulations got wilder and after hours of talking about materials, finishing, performance attributes and the reason for being, we finished the fifth (maybe sixth) round of the amber nectar, stashed away sketches on napkins and ended up at Mr. Horton's room for a nightcap. Not for more drinks, but instead to sift through a massive bag filled with Giro footwear samples that undoubtedly would later be used by Horton for a pillow as he dreamt up designs for the Rapha Grand Tour Shoes.
Perhaps it’s the blood-red vermouth. Perhaps it’s the crescent of orange, bobbing on a bed of ice cubes in a squat, unfussy glass. Whatever it is, there is something undeniably old-school about a Negroni cocktail. It’s easy to imagine one gracing the hand of Gina Lollobrigida on a 1950s Italian Riviera terrace. Then again, it would be just as at home at a suburban dinner party in the 1970s.
Its enduring appeal means these days it is to be found in some of the cooler bars around the globe and yet, like all the best cocktails, the Negroni appears to have been invented by chance. One summer’s day in 1919, a regular patron of Florence’s Caffe Casoni decided that his usual tipple, an Americano cocktail, was underpowered. Sliding his glass back across the bar, Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to replace the soda water used in the Americano – an otherwise identical drink – with something more punchy. Scarselli swapped the soda for gin, garnishing the finished drink with a slice of orange to distinguish it from the lemon used in its predecessor.
The drink has put in some notable appearances in the intervening decades, many of them literary. Orson Welles talked about the merits of the drink in a letter to the Ohio’s Coshocton Tribune. Working on the film Black Magic in 1947, Welles came across the drink in a bar in Rome and reported back that the “the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” The Negroni also appears in Tennessee Williams’s 1950 novella The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and in 1960, James Bond orders one during a rare deviation from the ever-reliable vodka martini.
To the Negroni’s literary credits can now be added the distinction of being the official libation of the Rapha Grand Tour Shoes, Rapha’s eagerly awaited first foray into the performance footwear market.