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How to Enjoy the Italian Art of the Aperitivo in Milan

The chic ritual of the aperitivo in Milan helps start the night off right. Here’s what you need to know, from what to order, how to snack, and most importantly, where to go for your aperitivo.

Barman Spiritello at Camparino in Galleria, Milan. Photo courtesy of Camparino in Galleria.

Barman Spiritello at Camparino in Galleria, Milan. Photo courtesy of Camparino in Galleria.

In Italy, the modern concept of a pre-dinner drink is said to have been born in Torino in 1786, when vermouth was created by distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano. This civilized custom, known as aperitivo, has been embraced by much of the Bel Paese.

In Milan, an early evening libation has been transformed into a chic ritual. It’s to be expected in this global fashion capital, where craftsmanship is everything, design is king, and stylish locals dress up even when going out to buy milk. While a potent potable and a few easy-to-eat bite—think olives, chips, and perhaps a few pizzette—are at the heart of this pastime, socializing and being seen are fundamental.

There are as many spots to sip as there are riffs on craft cocktails so why not explore as many aperitivo hotspots as you can while you’re in Milan? Here are several of the top spots to get you started.

Camparino in Galleria

For great people-watching along with your drink, Camparino in Galleria hits a home run. Called “Camparino” by locals, it’s located in the heart of Milan, overlooking Piazza Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Founded in 1915 by Davide Campari, son of Campari founder Gaspare Campari, it has been a cornerstone of Milanese cocktail culture ever since. While it’s an historic gathering space, it draws a contemporary crowd.

The Wall of Campari bottles at Milan's Camparino in Galleria.

Step inside and enter Bar di Passo. Stroll up the swanky staircase or ride in the old-world elevator and you’ll reach Sala Spiritello, its wall of Campari bottles adding sense of place. Sala Spiritello’s slight elevation presents a view of the comings and goings inside the Galleria, the city’s beautiful glass-domed arcade. Peer out of the window and you’ll glimpse sophisticated shoppers toting bags from Gucci and Prada and opera lovers passing by on their way to nearby La Scala.

The interior meshes old with new, with high ceilings, mirrors, Art Nouveau furnishings, mosaic floors, and original lighting fixtures. Guests sit on tufted chairs clustered around marble-topped, circular tables. Waiters wear formal white dinner jackets and black bow ties, yet their demeanor is approachable. A traditional oak bar and wood paneling add to the clubby vibe.

Sala Spiritello upstairs at Camparino in Milan.
Sala Spiritello at Camparino in Galleria in Milan. Photo by Melania Dalle Grave DSL StudioMG.

Not content to stand on their laurels, they’ve recently opened Sala Gaspare in the underground space that was originally the laboratory where Gaspare Campari refined the recipe for his namesake amaro liqueur. Soaked in history, it’s an intimate setting with room for twelve, making it popular for small parties.

There’s a robust menu of cocktails, though it would be a shame not to sample one that features Campari, as this is the brand’s home. If you’re not on a first name basis with Campari, it’s time to get acquainted. This scarlet-colored liqueur has a bold, bitter taste tempered with notes of citrus, enhanced with a warm touch of cinnamon. It’s consumed before dinner, as the bitter edge is said to stimulate the appetite and prepare the palate for the meal that lies ahead.

A tiered-stand of tasty tidbits and an aperitivo at Camparino in Galleria in Milan. Photo courtesy of Camparino in Galleria.
A tiered-stand of tasty tidbits and an aperitivo at Camparino in Galleria in Milan. Photo courtesy of Camparino in Galleria.

Which Campari cocktail should you choose? A Negroni is a popular Campari cocktail, boosted with gin and sweet vermouth, or go for a Negroni Sbagliato, a bubbly concoction of Campari, gin, and prosecco. I usually keep it simple with a Campari Seltz, Campari diluted with soda water and garnished with a slice of orange. Camparino’s bar is helmed by talented mixologist Tommaso Cecca, so there’s no wrong order.

Shrimp on Brioche with pickled peaches at Camparino in Galleria in Milan.
Shrimp on Brioche with pickled peaches at Camparino in Galleria in Milan.

Tasty tidbits are elegantly presented on a tiered stand. Last time I was at Camparino, I nibbled on a briny shrimp atop crust-less brioche toast and miniature pickled peaches as small as olives. There are enough noshes included with your drink to satisfy but not satiate, so keep your dinner reservations and enjoy Milan’s restaurant scene. del Duomo, 21, 20121 Milano MI, Italy

Bar Basso

Bar Basso is a must-stop for a memorable aperitivo experience in Milan. It’s known as the birthplace of the Negroni Sbagliato, attributed to founder Mirko Stocchetto, who mistakenly added prosecco to the famed cocktail instead of gin, giving the drink its name. Today, his son Maurizio runs Bar Basso, whose charisma and prowess have helped make it a top hangout for Milan’s design community, though Bar Basso thankfully maintains a laid-back vibe.
Via Plinio, 39, 20133 Milano MI, Italy

10 Corso Como

The café inside 10 Corso Como, an upscale clothing and housewares shop, draws a crowd that looks lifted from the pages of Vogue Italia. Enjoy signature cocktails or a glass of wine and finger food surrounded by lush perennials.
Corso Como 10, 20154 Milano MI, Italy

Frida Bar

Aperitivo Hour at Frida's in Milan.
Aperitivo Hour at Frida Bar in Milan.

At Frida Bar in the bohemian Isola neighborhood, regulars sit under the glass-roofed pergola and listen to the sounds of a DJ spinning vinyl with a drink in hand.
Via Antonio Pollaiuolo, 3, 20159 Milano MI, Italy

Rita and Rita's Tiki Room

Bar Manager Andrea Arcaini at Rita's Tiki Room in Milan.

The Navigli neighborhood is embraced for its picturesque canals and lively nightlife. It’s home to many bars that serve a fine aperitivo, none better than Rita’s Tiki Room, known for its Polynesian ambiance and inventive cocktails overseen by Bar Manager Andrea Arcaini. Across from Rita's Tiki Room is Rita's, where Arciani and crew showcase house-made ingredients in their inventive and classic cocktails. Try the barrel-aged Negroni for an elevated version of this classic aperitivo.
Via Angelo Fumagalli 1, 20143 Milano MI, Italy (Rita); Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 69, 20143 Milano MI, Italy (Rita's Tiki Room)

Looking for places to stay in Milan? Check out Appetito's hotel reviews:

Santa Sofia Milan, Modern Luxury with Elegant Swag

Casa Brivio in Milan, a Stylish Escape

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