In addition to being the one truly cosmopolitan city in Italy, Milan is perhaps where the ritual of aperitivo is followed most obsequiously. As a result, new trends overlap more traditional ways, leaving those looking for a pre-dinner drink spoilt for choice.
The custom of whetting the appetite with a drink on an empty stomach is shared by many cultures and eras. However, the origins of modern-day Italian aperitivo can be pinned down to late 18th-century Turin, from where it quickly spread to the other big cities of the peninsula. Milan has been driving the trends of this popular habit since at least the 1980s, as the ‘happy hour’ was imported from abroad and rich buffets took over the frugal nibbles served traditionally. The aperitivo hasn’t stopped evolving, and today the offer ranges from old-school bars to sophisticate options.
Who said one can’t feel at home while sipping a signature cocktail? Here the interiors have a random-living-room-like air achieved through a large space, mismatched furniture and hanging plants. The bar, half hidden not to ruin the atmosphere, serves up to eight (oTTo) house cocktails, international classics, over 40 wines and craft beers; while food comes on cutting boards rather than in the typical aperitivo buffet. Apparently wish notes are hidden in the tables drawers, and everyone can leave their own.
Via Sarpi 8, 20154 Milano
Come here for an apéritif à la française, as this little corner of France matches the atmosphere of a Parisian café and a traditional brasserie. Highly committed to debunking stereotypes about French cuisine, Le Vrai favours authentic produce over high gastronomy, regional recipes over nouvelle cuisine, nevertheless seeking to enhance tradition with a modern and inventive note. The aperitif is a feast of foie gras, pâté, canapes, rillettes and cheese terrines, accompanied by champagne flutes and red wine.
Via Galileo Galilei, 20124 Milano
Forerunner of the bohemian Milan, Jamaica opened in 1911 to establish as a cultural reference of the Brera neighbourhood and the whole city. A number of journalists, poets, artists and intellectuals made it their favourite haunt, without though dimming the vernacular character given by local customers, card games and traditional food. Today finding a penniless artist trying to pay by paintings is no longer likely, but Jamaica’s atmosphere and service stay true to its history. An excellent spot to stop by after a visit to the nearby Pinacoteca di Brera.
Via Brera 32, 20121 Milano
Capra e Cavoli
Not one’s typical veggie place, Capra e Cavoli boasts a surprising balance between a sophisticate approach and an authentic passion for genuine food. Prime produce and chef Pappalardo’s creativity turn simple, honest ingredients into inspiring stories. Most dishes are vegetarian, but vegan and pescetarian exceptions are allowed. A thoughtful selection of organic wines is the best complement for an alternative aperitivo, made even more enjoyable by the restaurant’s bright and refreshing atmosphere.
Via Pastrengo 18, 20159 Milano
Milan’s canal-side area of Navigli abounds with picturesque spots to make the most of a sunset aperitivo. Located right along the Naviglio Grande, Rebelot offers a refined and unusual experience, where the basic precepts of tradition meet an experimental approach. Just as original as the food menu, the cocktail list is the simple encounter of first-rate ingredients and bold creativity, although the fine yet unpretentious wine cellar will make a tempting alternative. All of it set in a welcoming and laidback ambience.
Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55, 20143 Milano
Sushi might not be the most obvious complement of a traditional aperitivo, but it does offer an excellent excuse to break the rules. In fact, Basara is named after a Medieval Japanese term referred to those embracing non-conformism as a way of life, and accordingly brought to Milan an innovative concept which brings together authentic sushi and creative patisserie. If the delicate desserts based on Japanese produce are more appropriate at other times of the day, chef Hiro’s sophisticate sushi creations suit perfectly the aperitivo time, best if paired with a glass of bubbly.
Via Tortona 12, 20144 Milan
The Indian aperitivo in Milan, where the warm and intimate ambience features inlaid wood, brass decor and original sculptures from India. From the parquet to the bar counter, each piece of furniture has a story to tell, be it related to a 19th-century haveli (traditional Indian townhouse), a seaside temple or an old fabric shop. A stone’s throw away from Parco Sempione and Arco della Pace, BhangraBar provides an unusual background for a typical happy hour.
Corso Sempione 1, 20145 Milano
Vino al Vino
This is the place to go to find an impressive list of wine, carefully sourced to reflect a genuine and passionate approach. Each wine on the list is sold both by the bottle and the glass, the latter option always costing a quarter of the bottle price. This way, there’s no reason why not to explore the whole selection available, including the higher-quality wines. At aperitivo time, reds, whites, champagnes and spumanti come with platters of cheese and cured meat.
Via Gaspare Spontini 11, 20131 Milano
TOM – The Ordinary Market
After working in London renowned gastropubs and restaurants, English chef Charlie Pearce travelled across Italy and the US to explore further territories of the culinary art. He then specialised in an original mix of Mediterranean flavours and American gourmet street food, by which he reinvented TOM’s kitchen in 2016. Young, dynamic, easy going and trendy, TOM represents the cosmopolitan side of Milan, where the aperitivo comes on rich boards of exotic notes and excellent cocktails. The events programme features regular live gigs and DJ sets.
Via Molino Delle Armi, Milano
Sushi B provides a sophisticate experience made of Japanese tradition, Mediterranean taste and seasonal produce. The relaxing atmosphere includes a vertical garden, a sushi bar where to observe the chefs’ skills and an elegant room for private gatherings. The original cocktail list is divided into ‘east’ and west’ inspirations, and both sections boast inventive creations by mixing typical Japanese ingredients and western recipes. A good selection of wine is also available to enjoy a non-conventional aperitivo on the restoring garden terrace.
Via Fiori Chiari 1A, 20121 Milano