When Michael McIlroy created the Rome With a View, not a single person had tagged a social media post with #spritzlife; “aperitivo” was a word and custom firmly contained within the borders of Italy and its like-minded European and South American brethren; and we were still 15 years away from J. Lo releasing her very own take on the breezy, low-ABV, Italian-inspired drinks that would sweep the United States in the late 2010s. Few customers, if any at all, were showing up to bars looking for a riff on the Americano.
“I would regularly get customers at Milk & Honey who would tell me they hated bitter [drinks], so this was my, ‘No you don’t, try this’ response,” says McIlroy.
It was 2008, and the cocktail aesthetic at that time was still focused on faithful reinterpretations of pre-Prohibition classics. McIlroy was among this group of “rebirthers,” as Scott Hocker calls them; he has the modern classics to prove it. But his interests extended beyond the late 19th century, even if his approach was rooted in the minimalist principles of those early cocktails. He created the Rome With a View—a simple combination of Campari, dry vermouth, lime juice and a tiny measure of simple syrup topped off with soda water—as “a low-ABV drink that could be easily replicated around the bar community.”
What is effectively a mashup of a rickey (spirit, lime, soda) and the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda) is so tethered to the spirit of pre-dinner Italian drinking that it feels as though it’s been a part of the canon all along. And yet it’s modern enough that, amid the crush of competitors born of the same ethos, it is the contemporary aperitivo drink that I return to most frequently. It does not tire because it was built to deliver. It has the smack of sour candy, the characteristic bite of Campari and the thirst-quenching refreshment of seltzer topped off with a squeeze of fresh lime. It’s the cocktail equivalent of getting hit in the face with sea spray.
Aside from being undeniably pleasurable to drink, it is also endlessly permutable. Case in point: Chip Tyndale’s earthy, autumnal Seven Hills, Matt Belanger’s “tikified” Quincentuple Your Money and—McIlroy’s favorite take on the drink—Dan Greenbaum’s Second Serve. Even McIlroy has, over the years, riffed on his own drink, culminating with the most recent example: Temple Bar’s Rome Royale, which calls on the same build as the original, but swaps Champagne for soda water. I’ll take one any day of the week.