In their relentless pursuit to drink like Italians, American bartenders have left few stones unturned. Everything from unsung aperitivo cocktails to once-disgraced disco drinks have been reproduced, reimagined or riffed on ad infinitum stateside. But even a country whose traditions are as pored-over as Italy’s still holds surprises. Take, for example, L’Albertissimo, a cocktail from Positano with legions of online fans, yet no known recipe. It appears to be the city’s most guarded secret.
The drink name pops up repeatedly if you spend enough time Googling vacation possibilities in Positano, “The Instagram Capital of the World” located on Italy’s eternally popular Amalfi Coast. “Positano is also very popular for Limoncello and ‘L’Albertissimo’, an alcoholic tipple that can only be found at a small stall at the main harbor,” reads the city’s Wikipedia page.
That sentence, both weirdly specific and frustratingly vague, has led me down a rabbit hole. What is L’Albertissimo, this mystery drink that apparently merits top billing alongside a liqueur as famous as limoncello? The Italian-language version of Positano’s Wikipedia entry is no help, as it doesn’t reference L’Albertissimo at all—nor limoncello or any other drinks, for that matter. As a search term, “L’Albertissimo” gets thousands of hits on Google, but most sites offer no additional information, often simply repeating the line verbatim, right down to the stilted phrasing of “alcoholic tipple.”
One exception to the apparent sworn secrecy around the drink is a TripAdvisor discussion from 2011. According to a user named posigirl, L’Albertissimo is “an amazing alcoholic drink that consists of lemon granita and some other special ingredients,” available at “the blue snack bar on the pier.” A user called RosaPositano supports and elaborates on posigirl’s comment: “The drink is delicious and has no limoncello but has granita di limone.” RosaPositano even mentions someone named Alberto, who runs the bar and goes by Albertissimo, noting that he was “chuffed” to see this discussion.
Some more internet sleuthing reveals that Alberto is in fact Alberto Russo, the co-owner of said blue snack bar on the pier, aka L’Alternativa, and is the namesake creator of L’Albertissimo. Russo guards his secret recipe closely and will only share a single ingredient: lemon granita, an icy Sicilian specialty that goes great with booze. While Russo confirms the beverage contains no limoncello, he declines to confirm or deny any additional speculations, including RosaPositano’s claims that “among the secret ingredients in the drink, it has a double vodka (strawberry and peach?), lemon soda, and maybe a melon syrup.” It’s true, however, that L’Albertissimo is a refreshing frozen cocktail featuring notes of strawberry and “just the right amount of sweetness, perfect for the daytime and also for warm evenings,” as Russo puts it. Like all of L’Alternativa’s drinks, it comes in a plastic cup so visitors can enjoy one while wandering the nearby beach or sitting on the pier, taking in the panorama for the modest price of 7 euros.
In fact, affordable luxury is L’Alternativa’s M.O. When Russo’s father and uncle opened the snack bar in 1994, they positioned it as a chill, accessible alternative to Positano’s high-end restaurant scene. The simple counter-service stall with a dark blue awning and teal siding operates from April to October, and could survive on location alone—it’s the first thing you’ll encounter upon disembarking the ferry from neighboring destinations like Amalfi. It’s nestled at the base of the city’s beautiful pastel buildings, which quickly rise high above the sea, giving Positano its nickname of Città Verticale (Vertical City). Another of L’Alternativa’s popular refreshments is an Instagram-friendly lemon sorbet packed inside a hollowed-out lemon. Yet the snack bar doesn’t strive to be a tourist trap. “L’Alternativa is special for its relaxing atmosphere and its reasonable price, where many locals and tourists alike choose to spend their evenings creating new friendships,” Russo says.
Russo, who grew up in Positano, has bartended for 24 years. He also runs a popular fishing charter company called Positano Fishing Tours. Since 2003, when he and his cousin took over L’Alternativa, they’ve bolstered the selection of snacks, soft drinks and beer with cocktails, including classics like Americanos and Long Island Iced Teas alongside originals such as the Cocchissimo, a frozen coconut filled with Malibu rum, among other ingredients. A few years in, L’Albertissimo was born, and its recipe hasn’t changed since. While Russo can’t pinpoint when or how his creation took on a life of its own, he says it became famous among locals before spreading to the internet and far-flung renown. Perhaps the cocktail’s allure isn’t just its mystique, but its accessibility for locals as well as tourists. Even if you can’t stay at any of the city’s legendary hotels or charter a private sunset boat ride, L’Albertissimo and the blue snack bar on the pier are there for you.
As Russo says, “L’Alternativa has become a symbol for Positano.”