A recent fixation of mine has been with craft cocktails, for many reasons. Mostly for an article I was doing research for, but also because I love them. It goes without saying that there is an art of being a barman. In addition to the product, but also the sort of social interaction and place involved with the ritual. If we look at old sitcoms, such as Cheers and even the Simpsons, the bar or the pub was a place where you could let it all hang out. Your barman is your confidant, your hooch peddler and the one who will banter with you when you have no one else to- and never judge you no matter how much whiskey and lager you sling back.
Truth be told, my obsession with bitters and bitter drinks started in Seattle of all places. What luck to be from such a dynamic place, where we take living pretty seriously. Seattle has a solid coffee culture, we talk at length over the intricacies of different roasting styles, a thriving music scene, is home to small-batch distilleries who make whiskey and vodka, our state makes wine which is pretty damn good, we know about different world cuisines, we travel, speak other languages and climb mountains. This of course is speaking to a privileged demographic who has the luxury to enjoy these pleasures, but I must say I give much credit to Seattle for forming my cultural lens of appreciation.Seattle is home to some of the most innovative mixologists such as Jeff Bell– who is now inventing wildly creative libations at New York’s speakeasy Please Don’t Tell (PDT).
My first crush on bitter based cocktails started with Jamie Boudreau’s Canon Whiskey and Bitter’s Emporium. Seattle has a reputation for legit craft drinking holes, I mean just take a look at ZigZag and the legacy of Murray Stenson! If you’re a first time reader of my blog, I started writing it in Seattle after I finished a course on the politics and anthropology of food in Rome and a period volunteering on a farm in middle of nowhere Puglia. I went back to Seattle with a new lens, ready to digest everything they called Italian. I swayed here and there, writing about places I loved and loathed, including Boudreau’s Canon Bar which I wrote about here.
Then when Seattle started totally gentrifying, becoming condoland Amazonia and parking lot/freeway for Microsoft commuters, I said “to hell with this, I’m getting the bleep out.” I couldn’t witness what was and has been erasing the character of Seattle that stole my heart as a quirky, vegetarian teenager. That is not the only reason I left Seattle, but I will say it has been tragic to watch from afar, its soul be demolished.
Of course Seattle is not the only cool city in the world, as many of us Seattleites are guilty of being so boastful of. However when I fall in love with a place in Florence, a little trigger has been something which reminds me of the creative and tasteful city I call my hometown. I try not to have existential moments on the blog, but I often wonder- where is home? Some say it is where the heart is. In this case, I concur with Gabriel García Márquez in that “my heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.” If only I could live in the many rooms which occupy my soul- alas!
In the recent weeks that I’ve been getting to the bottom of Florence’s drink/bar scene (and of many glasses too), a most super trusty bartender at Caffe Florian tipped me off to a new opening in town: Locale on Via delle Seggiole.
It is practically unmarked, and not in a speakeasy way. There is just no clear indication on where to enter, no sign no phone number and no listed opening times. Walk in and feel like you’ve stepped into a contradiction of something cosmopolitan (and not drink-wise) and in a time capsule of mega history. As if Milan and ancient Florence collided in one smash.
The elegant palace seems to have been resurrected in the second half of the fifteenth century, then it expanded in the sixteenth century when it was the residence of Bartolomeo Concini, first secretary and intimate confidant of Cosimo I de ‘Medici. However the structure itself has some foundation bits also dating as far back as 1200. The head barman Matteo Di Ienno took me downstairs and it felt as if I went back in time, when Florence was further underground. Fast forward to 2015 and you have a swanky bar restaurant villa it seems, adorned with 16th century frescoes and dining rooms with old wood ovens. The juxtaposition between modernity and antiquity is absolutely interesting and awe-worthy.
I took a look at the menu and it was flavored with truffles, creamed grains, foams, fringe pastas, grilled meats and what seemed like fluffy molecular, fusion gastronomy. It’s worth mentioning that first courses run about 25-30eu on average. For those accustomed to eating simple yet hearty family-style food off the beaten path, this kind of dining experience may not be for you. This is the place for experiencing Florence’s take on modern cuisine, which mostly consists of aspects of molecular gastronomy and elevating traditional Tuscan cuisine with frilly things.
I have my own juxtaposition of feelings here regarding the cost of the cocktails. The barman is pretty down to earth, the drinks are pretty solid and the service is spot on. I went once on my own and was delighted by welcome punch of pineapple cordial, rum and rooibos tea (pictured below). Round two I went with travel blogging guru Georgette of Girl in Florence who also is a lover of fresh libations and said her dark and stormy was one of the best she’d ever sipped.
My only reservation is that they serve popcorn and (stale) salty crackers with the drinks. The Mayday bar has spoiled me and Florence for that matter for fresh, warm popcorn (as he has a proper machine) and this popcorn comes out of a bag, you can tell. If they are going for a luxury, swanky cocktail lounge- maybe ditch the bagged popcorn and serve some thick sliced potato chips or something else?
To be completely frank, I’d approve this place for flavorful, balanced craft cocktails in a stunning atmosphere. The “locale” is fit for those who really want to experience Tuscan time travel and the current wave of contemporary cocktail and dining culture. I’d even be willing to organize a private party in one of those underground caves.
Location: Via delle Seggiole, 12. Phone Number: 055-906-7188
Have you been to Locale yet? What were your impressions- leave a comment!
In your boozy trust,
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