Popularized on TikTok, the sweet, bitter, fizzy and previously obscure Negroni Sbagliato is suddenly the hottest cocktail in town
In 10 years as a bartender, Alfred Siu, the owner of Project Gigglewater, on Dundas Street West, can’t remember serving more than 10 Sbagliato in a year.
« It was a bartenders drink, » Siu said. A play on the classic Negroni with gin substituted for Prosecco, it was a niche twist on an already acquired taste for the nerdiest of cocktail nerds.
« Sbagliato was one of the lost cousins, » said Nick Kennedy, the owner of Civil Liberties on Bloor Street West. It was something you might see at a bartending contest, or in an old cookbook, not an order you’d often get here at the rail.
But for Kennedy, Siu and other Toronto bartenders, that all changed in October. That’s when a promotional clip for HBO’s « House of the Dragon » went viral on TikTok, making Sbagliato – sweet, bitter, bubbly and previously obscure – the hottest cocktail in town.
« I would say sales are up about 700%, » said Jonathan K. Crosson, operations manager at Bar Montauk in Toronto. “I had to store more Prosecco. …And I’m not just talking about my own bar. When the meme first arrived, the joke among bartenders was how many people drank them.
For Toronto’s cocktail elite, the Sbagliato boom has been bewildering and rather sweet, much like Sbagliato itself. It’s been pop culture’s biggest drink explosion since Don Draper first ordered a Gibson’s Old Fashioned on « Mad Men » and it shows no signs of slowing down.
« I watched the interview and I was like, ‘Oh shit, here we go,' » Crosson said. « I thought maybe it would happen for a week (but) it’s been like (it) the last three months. »
The 20-second clip features Olivia Cooke, who plays Alicent Hightower in « House of the Dragon, » asking fellow actor Emma D’Arcy (Rhaenyra Targaryen) about their drink of choice.
« A Negroni, » D’Arcy replies, their North London accent making the word sound more like « Nagroooneh. »
» That’s what I was going to say ! Cooke intervenes before D’Arcy continues: « Sbagliato, » they said, raising their eyebrows. “With Prosecco in it.”
« Ooo, » Cooke purred in response. « Stunning! »
The original clip has since been viewed more than 32 million times on TikTok. Some 82,000 TikTok users, meanwhile, have repurposed the sound to create their own tribute videos, including queer pop icon King Princess, who posted a clip of herself gaping side by side side with the original video under the caption: « Why is this the hottest thing I’ve ever heard?!?!”
There is no doubt that Sbagliato’s video had a special resonance in the queer community. « If you’re queer and on the internet this week, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a more exciting cocktail party, » Mel Woods wrote in Xtra Magazine in October. But the drink’s newfound popularity in Toronto hasn’t been limited to just one group.
« I’ve noticed a lot of people asking me about it, like friends who’ve never tried it and aren’t in the industry and are just curious if it’s a real drink, if it was a good drink, if it was something they could order when they went out,” said Christina Veira, co-owner of Bar Mordecai.
Evelyn Chick, owner of Simpl Things in Parkdale, said her bartenders added a Sbagliato button to her POS system because customers were asking for it so much. « It was quite a phenomenon, » she said with a small sigh. « I just find it interesting that it’s become such a thing because of this meme. »
The word “sbagliato” means wrong or false in Italian. According to cocktail lore, it was invented by a bartender named Mirko Stocchetto at Bar Basso in Milan in 1972. In one version of the story, Stocchetto pulled the wrong bottle off the shelf while making a Negroni and decided to roll with.
Toronto, however, has its own history with the Sbagliato. Years ago bartenders at the former Chantecler in Parkdale began calling the act of adding bubbles to any cocktail ‘spaggling’, according to Josh Lindley, a former Chantecler bartender who helped to popularize the term.
« A Negroni Sbagliato is a great drink with a rich and delicious history, » Lindley wrote in a text message. « The results of spaggling a drink vary widely. »
The actual term « spagggle », however, was coined by former Lindley boss, Chantecler owner Jacob Wharton-Shukster. Wharton-Shukster was enjoying a Negroni after judging an outdoor cocktail competition, he said, when, feeling dehydrated, he cut off at the start of a line and asked the bartender to « spaggle this s- -t for me ».
« Without missing a beat, he immediately understood through my words that I wanted sparkling wine in the drink, » Wharton-Shukster wrote in a text message. « Josh, who was with me, was in disbelief and just pointed at me in amazement. Thus was born the ‘Spaggle’.
Before Chantecler closed following a fire in 2019, you could “spare” any drink at the bar for an extra $4. When the restaurant reopens next month in a new location, Wharton-Shukster said, spaggling will be on the menu again.
True Sbagliato, like a Negroni, can be something of an acquired taste, bartenders say.
« A lot of people ordered it (after the meme), » Kennedy said. « I would say few people liked it as ordered. »
If you want a Sbagliato on New Year’s Eve, you might be better off making one at home. Some of Toronto’s best cocktail bars are closed for the night this year. « At the end of the day, for the vast majority of places, it’s no busier from a sales standpoint than an ordinary night, » Viera of Bar Mordecai said. « And that often comes with a lot more moving parts. »
If you make your own Sbagliatos at home, know that they come with a kick.
« I feel like you can almost have one or two, and then you should be good for the night, » Chick said.
She stopped for a moment. « Or no. You can have four or five. It’s up to you. »
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