Gucci's queen of cocktails

The woman who condenses memories, stories, and dreams into entrancing drinks

07 March 2024 - 14:57
By Steve Steinfeld
Martina Bonci.
Image: Supplied Martina Bonci.

Martina Bonci, bar manager at Gucci Giardino 25 in Florence, has been awarded the title of best mixologist in Italy at the annual Blue Blazer Awards. A love of Florence, the aroma of roasted chestnuts at her nonna’s, the frenetic activity in a beehive — for Bonci, these are but a few of the many points of inspiration around which she creates cocktails at the magnificent cocktail bar on Florence’s Piazza della Signoria.

“I usually start from a personal memory, be it a smell, a taste, an anecdote or even a dream. I want each one of my cocktails to have its story. My personal goal is for my drinks to evoke emotions in the person who’s drinking them. Maybe not my emotions or feelings, but something deeply personal, rooted in their own memories,” Bonci said when explaining her process.

A must-visit when in Florence, the bar first opened its doors in 2022 and has gone on to receive much critical acclaim. Housed in a space previously tenanted by a florist, the bar is a gorgeous space, merging the codes of the famed fashion house and its Florentine surroundings (along with nods to the aforementioned flower shop) to create something spectacular. It is the perfect backdrop against which Bonci’s cocktails come to life.

The Take It Easy cocktail.
Image: Supplied The Take It Easy cocktail.

At Giardino, dressed in head-to-toe Gucci (as are the entire team), she stirs, shakes, and pours her signature libations — cocktails that are impeccably balanced, refined, and imbued with a sense of style befitting the house of Gucci. There’s the Mémoire di Negroni, a twist on the classic cocktail that was first conceived in Florence, with which she pays her own homage to the city in the official Florentine purple. It’s a delicate, softer take on the classic, with elements of grapefruit, yuzu and butterfly pea flower adding layers of complexity.

The Queen Bee is another example of her skill. While many honey-based cocktails can be cloyingly sweet and one-dimensional, Bonci has created something magnificent. Combining banana-infused whisky, mango-infused vodka, a yoghurt milk wash, and honey, she serves up a wonderfully tart, texturally thrilling drink. The honey is there, but it’s not overt, the spirits are present but not overpowering; it’s all very clever.

This intelligence permeates her menu, with each serve a reference or a memory distilled into liquid form, always balanced, always elegant and always delicious. With the Ancora, for instance, she acknowledges recently appointed creative director Sabato De Sarno’s debut collection for Gucci, matching the red so prominently featured in the collection to the drink.

With the Ricordo della Nonna, she delves into memories of childhood visits to an Italian grandmother’s house, recreating it in the form of a spirit-forward mix of chestnut-infused bourbon, peanut butter and Amaretto. The latter, she said, has had many of her guests regaling their tables with memories of nonna’s house — a testament to the success of her ethos.

Gucci Giardino 25's interior.
Image: Supplied Gucci Giardino 25's interior.

When it comes to pairing her cocktails with the food menu, the mixologist has two approaches, employing either similarities or contrasts by taking the ingredients of the cocktail and the dish and seeing how they work together. And the Giardino menu provides plenty of decadent bites with which to play.

The Queen Bee, for instance, works brilliantly with the eatery’s luxe take on a croque-monsieur, the “Monsieur in Florence”, while the Toscana burger (Chianina IGP tartare with a balsamic-vinegar mayo atop a fluffy seeded bun) does just as beautifully with the Ancora and the signature negroni is a perfect match for the earthy, creamy truffle tagliolino.

Dionysus Cocktail.
Image: Supplied Dionysus Cocktail.

Other menu highlights include the seven-tomato pacchero that will have you scraping the plate clean and nonna’s tortellini with a Parmigiano-Reggiano broth. For dessert, the maya cakes (made with banana bread and rum, covered in chocolate, and topped with hazelnuts) are well suited to a Ricordo della Nonna.

I stopped at Giardino just before heading to the Amerigo Vespucci Airport to begin the journey back home.

A day after Bonci won at the Blue Blazer gala — the award already proudly displayed next to the bar — the bar team was buzzing with excitement and Bonci was being interviewed by a fellow journalist.

As I sat at the stylish bar counter, sipping on a Memoiré di Negroni, I relived my memories of Florence, of this trip and trips past, of glorious days spent in the sun-filled piazzas and of winter days bundled up in scarves and jackets. The cocktail — as Bonci intended — evoked memories of the beautiful city.