Editor's note: I'm working with Campari America to interview and feature some very cool, very talented LGBTQ players in the cocktail and spirits world in celebration of Pride Month. JR
Bartender Alex Negranza has a fairly outsized passion for Negronis--his Instagram handle and nickname is A_Negroni, and he spearheads Negroni Week in Houston where he works at Anvil Bar & Refuge. He's also the Global Brand Ambassador for Scrappy's Bitters. The guy doesn't seem to need to sleep. I spoke with Alex via Skype as a late afternoon storm system moved into Houston. Alex sipped an Americano as we chatted, while back in Long Island City I had a nice lean rye & soda. Alex took me through his journey from barista to bartender and broke down his obsession with negronis, his go-to airport bar order, and a recent tattoo of one of his favorite drinks.
Photo: Sam Landrum
JR: So you're ramping up for Negroni Week?
AN: Yes, I've actually just been on the phone with our distributor and our local Campari rep and working on a really cool shirt design we're doing just for the Houston market as well as some limited edition screen prints. I've been working with a local artist/designer Matthew Tabor on commissioning a piece of art. It’ll be a hand pulled, screen printed homage to the Negroni- each of the 25 will be hand signed and numbered by the artist, they’re gorgeous. We've got the launch party coming up, and the Houston United States Bartender's Guild June meeting is being hosted by Campari here at Anvil, so we've got a lot going on.
JR: So you're like the ringleader for Negroni Week there?
AN: Ringleader, cat herder, whatever you want to call it!
JR: It's funny, I always say about emailing for recipes or quotes from bartenders is like herding cats—drunk cats. Speaking of: what are you drinking
AN: An Americano. The Americano has been my go-to drink recently—as I've been visiting all these venues gearing up for Negroni Week, it’s a little easier to have a lower ABV Americano—can't always have a Negroni at each stop, this kind of limits my actual alcohol intake. And it's an appropriate cocktail—since it kind of started off the Negroni.
JR: I was on an epic travel bender last year, and I made a point of ordering Americanos as the first drink every time I got to a new town. And it's interesting the subtle variations you'll see from bar to bar, around the world.
AN: Did you have more people saying that they don't have coffee?
JR: It's about 30% of the time, if you don't specify “cocktail” you get a coffee.
Photo: Sam Landrum
JR: So where did you start your career in hospitality?
AN: I worked at a bunch of specialty coffee bars around Seattle.
JR: Isn't that compulsory in Seattle, doing a stint in a coffee shop?
AN: Exactly! It's actually what got me up to Seattle in the first place, and it definitely set me on a course for the bar world—I started working in bars while on a sabbatical from coffee industry and the sabbatical continues about six years later.