I’ve come to a decision: I’m done with this whole cocktail renaissance thing. The trivial tipples it’s given birth to disappoint me like wayward children of a superior generation. I’m tired of ordering a $15 hodgepodge of housemade mole bitters, bacon-infused bourbon, blueberry jam—heck, even shiso—only to have it taste like, well, nothing much at all. I can’t count how many times I’ve ordered one of these mixology-fueled fantasies, turned to my drinking companion and said: “I should have just ordered a Manhattan.”
Classic cocktails are what I really love: Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Negronis, Sazeracs—the stuff our grandpas and grandmas drank. But there’s one pioneering cocktail out there, one that would be mere novelty if it didn’t taste so damn good, that I can firmly stand behind—mainly because it starts out as one classic cocktail, then turns, miraculously, into another.
It’s called the II Palio, and it’s the brainchild of Jeff Faile, the bar manager at Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s new Washington, D.C. restaurant Casa Luca. The drink starts out as a classic Manhattan served on the rocks, but then pulls off a remarkable trick. Those rocks, it turns out, are a mixture of water and Campari. So, as the ice cubes melt, the drink transforms from a Manhattan to a Boulevardier—another classic drink that’s basically a Negroni made with bourbon instead of gin. The cocktail is named after a popular horse race, which takes place twice a year in Sienna, Italy. But don’t race to the finish with this one, as you’ll miss its slow, steady—and dare I say classic—transformative powers.