Where to try the art of aperitivo in Milan – and more bars
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The Milanese know how to do one thing particularly well: the art of aperitivo. In the late afternoons, office workers flock to stylish spots to loosen up and unwind with a drink and a selection of small bites as a precursor to an evening meal. Although the city is replete with places to enjoy an aperitivo, with competing bars laying out counters groaning with goodies, the true connoisseur won’t be gorging. This part of the evening is about sipping expertly crafted cocktails while enjoying freshly prepared finger food that expresses the very best of Italian culinary traditions.
You’ll also find cosy cafés, laid-back wine bars and speakeasy-style cocktail bars perfect to catch up over a quiet drink. And if you’re after DJs and late-night dancing, there’s no shortage of venues where you can party your socks off until well after sunrise.
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On bustling Ripa di Porta Ticinese, this lively spot is a café by day, morphing into one of the city’s most popular hangouts in the evenings, with seating pouring out onto the canalside in summer. Interiors have bags of character, with eclectic furnishings and curios carpeting the walls, from old tennis rackets to teapots and a quirky chandelier featuring a bike wheel with light bulbs. Giappone is a favourite, a deliciously refreshing drink made with gin, shiso, sage, cardamom, lime, absinthe and ginger beer. If you’re lucky, you may be given the password to access their speakeasy near Porta Venezia.
The bartenders here travel the world for inspiration to create exciting new drinks using novel techniques and ingredients. There’s a story behind every drink – grab your smart phone, point the camera at the interactive menu, and you’ll see videos detailing how each came into being. Every six months a new country is the star of the show; at the moment it’s France, with the likes of a refreshing Provençal drink prepared with amaro, lavender, rose, lemon, bergamot juice and basil. Curios and knick-knacks, from Mexican sombreros to a French boat propeller, create a welcoming atmosphere, while laidback tunes add to the informal vibe.
Measuring only 13 square feet, this watering hole is one of the world’s smallest whisky bars. Seating only four, it oozes plenty of character and charm, with concoctions in glass phials lining wooden apothecary shelves and old tracks from a Marshall radio setting the mood (you can pick and change according to your musical flavour). You’ll have to book a seat at this itsy-bitsy space, although if you haven’t managed to bag a spot you can knock at the small window for a drink on the go. You’ll see no more than a hand and a V for Vendetta mask, intriguing you to know what lies within.
Contact: 00 39 340 962 8890; backdoor43.dinesuperb.com Opening times: n/a Nearest Metro: Porta Genova Prices: ££ Getting in: Reservations are essential. Book your 1.5hr slot via the website.
Tucked away off the Naviglio Grande, this welcoming spot has firmly established itself on the Milanese nightlife scene as a favourite for aperitivo. Experienced mixologists shake up some of the best cocktails in town, while finger food and small tasting dishes are made fresh on the spot: expect salmon tartare with green apple, beetroot and yuzu; and aubergine caponata with smoked burrata cheese. Sit back at the caramel-coloured bar and watch the barmen at work as you sip on a Lebanese Jacket, made with homemade ginger syrup, yuzu, lemon juice and whisky infused with lapsang souchong, served with lime and a sprinkling of tea leaves.
Award-winning mixologists prepare creative cocktails at this hipster bar. It’s packed to the brim with curios and sporting memorabilia, from riding boots to vintage hatboxes, with heavy drapery and low lighting adding to the cosy feel. Sip on a velvety Same Old Mistakes made with gin, lime, egg white, bergamot and Maraschino cherry liqueur, and soak up the atmosphere over a jazz performance. They also do a hearty Sunday brunch with live jazzy tunes and Italian bubbly on tap.
Tucked away in an industrial courtyard, this concept bar with duck green velvet armchairs and suffused lighting is by no means your regular bar. Cocktails are prepared with techniques normally applied to contemporary cuisine (vacuum cooking, fermentation), while ingredients are carefully selected to produce aromas, infusions and extracts. Drinks come in quirky containers such as cones and ladles, while in others the ingredients themselves act as recipients (a carved beetroot, for example). For a unique experience, book a spot at the Vivarium, a private room offering a multi-sensory experience similar to a chef’s table, where you sip on wonderfully creative cocktails prepared by your personal mixologist.
This lively bar is named after a Futurist Italian literary journal, with prints by Futurist painter Fortunato Depero, colourful geometric wallpaper designs and early 20th-century advertising posters for Campari. Vaulted ceilings with exposed beams, retro Seventies armchairs and original 18th-century floors add a welcoming touch. Sip on classic or vintage cocktails, from an Old Fashioned to a refreshing Mint Julep, lovingly prepared following traditional recipes from the Twenties – or try one of the barmen’s latest daring creations as you nibble on freshly prepared finger food such as potato and asparagus frittatas, potato croquettes, tomato bruschetta and focaccia with basil pesto.
Fashionable, sophisticated, and attracting Milan’s beau monde, Il Bar at Bulgari Hotel Milano has become something of an institution for its superb aperitivo (which predictably does not come cheap). With its high ceilings and stylish oval resin counter, the bar looks out onto a leafy garden, a haven of peace that draws crowds in summer. Milanesi sit back al fresco on cushioned wicker sofas to upbeat tunes with cocktail in hand – a zesty summer drink with gin, Aperol, lime, pineapple and orange juice – while savouring finger food by acclaimed Chef Niko Romito. Try the ricotta and anchovy tart and the culatello ham.
Swing tunes and retro furnishings set the tone for this elegant little spot where black and white marble marries with brass, resin and leather. Mismatched furnishings (iron chairs, leather sofas) add a fun touch, while dark coloured walls and floor lamps with frosted globe bulbs create an intimate ambience. Cocktails are prepared with spices, flowers, herbs and even sap and bark – try the Baxter Clipper, a sweet drink made with tequila, walnuts, sandalwood, locust tree bark, milk oolong tea and Marsala wine, which lends the drink a mellow sweet flavour.
This wonderfully cosy wine bar is styled as a vintage living room, with comfy sofas, candle-lit tables and books dotted about; laidback jazzy tunes add to the ambience. The wine list is extensive, with 800 types personally selected from small independent producers in Italy and beyond, while nibbles (foie gras; cheese platters) along with more substantial mains (slow-cooked cod; veal cheeks) are available. A selection of oxidative wines, chosen for their earthy nutty aromas and deep complexity, complete the offering. Regular events include wine tastings, food pairings and presentations by independent producers.
Contact: 00 39 02 8425 8410; bicerinmilano.com Opening times: Daily, 6pm-12am Nearest Metro: Porta Venezia Prices: ££
This quirky little place is set out to resemble a Japanese izakaya, with Japanese signage, video installations showing pop images, and a black and white mural depicting a Tokyo alley. Japanese barmen come up with inventive creations mostly based on Japanese whisky, gin and shōchū – try the kabuki martini, prepared with Nikka gin, vermouth dry, sesame oil and seaweed bitters. It even offers bottle-keep just like in Japan, where you can store your own personal bottle until your next visit. Oh, and listen in for the recorded voices from the Tokyo metro when you pop to the loo.
Contact: 00 39 02 3826 9862; kanpaimilano.it Opening times: Mon-Thurs, 7pm-1am; Fri-Sat 7pm-2am Nearest Metro: Porta Venezia Prices: ££
Ceresio 7 is sleek, with its stylish rooftop swimming pools and fashionable vibe. During the day, fashionistas hang out by the poolside in designer bikinis, while in the evenings a smart Milanese crowd flocks here to sip on creative drinks and watch the sun go down. The cocktail list recalls the city’s sartorial heritage, with homemade cordials and spirits echoing textiles and textures. The Purple Velvet drink combines a cream of Chianti with citrus sherbet, offering a fresh, summery zing. Upbeat tunes add to the ambience.
A laidback café by day attracting designers and media types, this low-key place morphs into a popular drinking spot in the early evenings. Interiors have a Scandinavian feel, with simple clean lines, neat rows of potted plants and plenty of natural light flooding in through the large windows. There’s no table service here – you’ll have to head to the bar to order your drinks. Sip on an Amber, made with black grapes, lemon, sugar and gin, as you nibble on small platters of nibbles with a slight northern European twist (think beetroot tart and purple cabbage salad).
Contact: no phone number, email only (firstname.lastname@example.org); sarpiotto.com Opening times: Daily, 10am-2pm Nearest Metro: Monumentale Prices: £
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