I confess: I've been to Russell House before. Many times. Yes, we're two days into Negroni Week, and I've already broken my own rule.
Believe it or not, I planned for this. Russell House was my dedicated fallback bar (distinct from a fall backbar, where I assume one can get a pumpkin milk punch). If one thing led to another and I needed someplace convenient, of guaranteed quality, I had every intention of ending up at Russell House Tavern.
They're still billing themselves as a "New American Tavern" on their website, but the tavern is a fixture in Harvard Square. It was full but not packed when I was there last night, and last night was a Tuesday.
Mention Negroni Week at Russell House, and you'll get a Negroni Week Passport, with spaces to stamp for ten participating bars in each of ten cities. Suddenly, my own seven-bar project seems far less ambitious.
It was at this establishment that I first fell in love with the Jungle Bird, so I tend to trust Campari experiments conducted here. They're serving both classic Negronis and a special variant called the Palazzo this week. I opted to try the latter.
The Palazzo starts out with gin and Campari, like you'd expect. The Russell House twist is to finish it with a 50/50 mixture of Booker's bourbon and St. George raspberry liqueur, with the goal of hitting sweet vermouth's flavor notes without actually including any. It's garnished with a slice of orange peel, as usual, and served neat.
It's a pleasant drink, but it strikes me as quite different from a standard Negroni. Most of the sip is the bourbon-raspberry combination, until the Campari hits on the aftertaste. The result is that it's less complex than its parent cocktail, while at the same time being more subtle than you expect it to be. Probably not one for the Negroni purists, but I liked it well enough.
Sales of both the Palazzo and the classic Negroni benefit the Leary Firefighters' Foundation, founded in 2000 by actor and local son Denis Leary. In those fourteen years, the foundation has given out millions of dollars to fire departments around the country for equipment, training, and facilities - a good chunk of that in Boston and Worcester.
Two days down, five to go. And remember - tonight, we drink for AccesSportAmerica!