The Hardened Veteran to the Bright, Young Spritz
Mezzo e mezzo in Bassano
A bitter wind is often best accompanied by a bitter drink. Glass in hand, scarlet sunset over the river, fingers sticky from the overflowing spills, I am drinking Bassano del Grappa’s contribution to the aperitivo phenomenon while sheltering on Palladio’s (very re-built) wooden bridge.
It’s the end of a day of winter sightseeing, when finger and toes are numb and softly-lit bars tempt. We reach Bassano’s iconic landmark, the wooden Bridge of the Alpini. It was originally designed by Palladio in 1569, but it’s been rebuilt many times, the last time during the Second World War. And by the looks of it, it needs another makeover pretty soon. We pass a curious sign that reads ‘dentifricio alla Grappa Nardini’—grappa toothpaste.
We find Bar Nardini the other side of the uneven bridge, an unassuming façade difficult to discern behind the thick crowd of people pressing to get inside for the 6 p.m. aperitivo rush hour. Nothing for it but to dive in, elbows out. Inside is dark, with smoked wood, bottles lit with an icy modern glow, and antique decorative iron lamps.
The customers pushing back out through the crowd all bear the same small tumbler of a dark red liquid with a curl of lemon. We quickly ascertain from a fellow elbower that here you drink Nardini’s own aperitivo concoction: the mezzo e mezzo. This ‘half and half’ drink is made from Nardini’s bitters, one part rabarbaro, one part rosso, two parts cold soda water, and a lemon peel.
As we reach the bar we observe an impressively swift rhythm of filling glasses, taking money, and onto the next customer. Before I can even specify my order two glasses are plonked down in front of me and my money fairly snatched from my hand. An efficient system. With inevitable spills we are back out in the biting wind, timed unintentionally well to admire a sunset as richly hued as our drinks.
The mezzo e mezzo is a serious aperitivo drink, bitter and earthy. It’s the hardened veteran to the fizzy, bright young Spritz. It is rarely found outside of Bassano, or Nardini for that matter, and I can’t really see it taking off globally like Spritz has. But part of that might be that the experience of drinking the mezzo e mezzo, on the iconic bridge with a view of Bassano, can’t be replicated. Although Palladio’s bridge may be the aperitivo terrace now, a marble plaque hit by a grenade testifies to more arduous Friday nights in the past. In fact, the mezzo e mezzo feels like an appropriate drink for the Alpini, Italy’s elite mountain military, after whom the bridge is named.
Ponte Vecchio, 2, 36061 Bassano del Grappa VI