The time-honored tradition of aperitivo is Italy’s greatest culinary invention. Okay, maybe it’s not pizza, but the ritual of this pre-dinner drink is a true Italian tradition. From the Italian word aprire, ‘to open’, the aperitivo is just that: a fresh, light drink to open your palate and appetite for the evening meal.
While many Italians consider Milan to be the birthplace of the aperitivo, the story of its origins is somewhat contested. Popular consensus has given the honor to Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the 18th century inventor of vermouth. Brewed in Turin, near Milan, the popularity of vermouth as an aperitivo grew with the introduction of bitters such as Campani, mixing the two together and creating early cocktails. Throughout the years, the trend of a pre-dinner drink has grown into a treasured cultural tradition. Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy the best aperitivi Milan has to offer.
HOW DOES APERITIVO WORK?
To warm up your stomach for dinner at around 9pm, aperitivo time usually starts around 7pm. Popular drinks include bitters like Campari and the artichoke-flavored Cynar, or a cocktail such as the classic Negroni. Drinks are always served with some snacks. These could be as simple as some olives and chips or as elaborate as a spread of bruschetta with cheeses and meats. At a restaurant, your selection may come with your drink, or it could be a buffet-style option. As with the Spanish tapas, the food is considered an accompaniment, and so is included in the price of your drink. Rather than a full meal, your aperitivo drink and snacks are simply to pique your appetite (though it’s increasingly common among younger people to treat it as a meal).
WHERE SHOULD I GO FOR APERITIVO IN MILAN?
In Milan, the birthplace of the aperitivo, you’re really spoiled for choice. The city is teeming with bars and restaurants all claiming to have the perfect combination of drinks and nibbles for that true Italian aperitivo experience. We’ve narrowed it down to our top five aperitivo spots in Milan. Choose your favorite, or try a different spot every night of your trip!
Operating from Milan’s Chinatown, this 100 year old establishment serves up some of the best Italian wine in the world! The floor-to-ceiling shelves of bottles are the picture-perfect backdrop to an evening spent chatting with friends and sipping from the vast selection. Quality nibbles and an unpretentious atmosphere have made Cantine Isola a Milano mainstay since 1896.
Via Paolo Sarpi 30
Tuesday to Sunday 10 – 22
No list of aperitivo spots in Milan would be complete without Bar Basso. Inventors of the ‘negroni sbagliato’ – a negroni made with sparkling wine instead of gin – this neon-lit bar is credited with popularizing the aperitivo tradition among everyday people. This unique institution serves over 500 drinks, from classic favorites to new inventions. Park yourself at the bar and enjoy their daily aperitivo offerings.
Via Plinio 39
Wednesday to Monday 9 – 1:15
Off to the side of the vibrant Via Tortona is the eclectic and charming Morna. Aperitivo time lets you sample a strong selection of wines by the glass as well as beer on tap and, of course, wonderfully crafted cocktails. One of the best aspects of this bar (apart from the plentiful and delicious snacks) is its location next to a bocciofila, or bocce green. In the spring and summer you can watch Milanese locals play this popular boules game while you sip your aperol spritz.
Via Tortona 21
Tuesday to Saturday 18 – 2
Sunday 18 – 00
Morna on Facebook
This shabby-chic hideaway is tucked down a side street in Milan’s old industrial area. The exposed brick and laid-back feel of this courtyard restaurant is a quiet reprieve from the commotion of the city. Contemporary Italian cuisine accompanies their signature aperitivo cocktails. Get there early to enjoy this unique spot before the local crowds pour in.
Via Giovenale 7
Tuesday to Sunday 19 – 2
Fonderie Milanesi on Facebook
Gogol & Company
Aperitivo in a bookshop? This literary haven is simultaneously a shop, a cafe, a gallery, and in the evening, an excellent aperitivo spot. Located in a quiet piazza near the Tortona design district, this is the perfect spot to unwind after a long day or to catch up with friends. Gogol & Company is very much a hidden gem for aperitivo, and one you won’t find on most tourist maps!
Via Savona 101
Tuesday to Sunday 9 – 22
Monday 12 – 22