Milan Favorites from American Eyes – Part 1: Aperitivo

Aperitivo: What, When, Why, How Answering any and all questions you could ever have about the infamous 'aperitivo' in Italy!

 
 

What it’s not:

'Happy hour’ or something for cheap cocktails (no discounts here, folks), a time to get drunk (che brutta figura!), or an opportunity to stack your plates sky-high with little bites of food.

What it is

An incredibly Italian tradition (most notably in Northern Italy) consisting of a cocktail hour with a focus on food; the snacks served as part of an aperitivo aren’t meant to be a dinner substitute but something to satisfy that post-lunch hunger which seemingly lasts forever until the typical Italian dinner time. During aperitivo, when you buy a drink, you get one plate of food. Not more.

How it works: 

Buy a drink—do yourself a favor here and get one of the classics: Negroni, Americano, or a spritz—and you’ll either have the option of a buffet table filled with variations of focaccia, salumi, cheeses, grilled veggies, and some hot dishes; on the other end of the spectrum, you will be served course-style small tapas dishes (read on to see how one of our favorites—Pisacco—does their aperitivo).

When is it

Generally you’ll see aperitivo from 6pm to 9pm, but most spots won’t see many crowds until 7pm rolls around.

Why this is a tradition 

Aperitivo is the perfect opportunity to unwind after work, experience something truly local, and prime your appetite for a fairly lengthy dinner afterwards.

MAG Cafe

Imagine an eclectic, retro bar flooded with locals and perfectly balanced cocktails. If you’re looking for a great café and an even better cocktail bar that you can walk into and feel welcome—just like a local—you MUST go to Mag. Besides its ambiance (great lighting, art, and quirky knick knacks) Mag’s location on the Naviglio is hard to resist. It has been our favorite spot since day one in Milan and feels like our home away from home.

Things to look out for:

  • Cocktail menus disguised as books
  • Aperitivo time can be crowded: if you see a table take it!
  • All-day Coffee: grab a cappuccino in the morning or a caffe shakerato if you’re looking for something refreshing; these guys are pretty serious about their coffee
  • MAG has a ‘takeaway’ bar right next door. At this window/hole-in-the-wall they offer 5 or 6 classics, like a Whiskey Sour or a Dark n’ Stormy. The drinks come in plastic, dingy cups but boy do they hit the spot if you’re on the move or need a quick sip!

Favorite Drinks/Cocktails:

  • Moroccan mint tea (for two)
    • Wild Turkey, mint tea, Biancosarti aperitif, mint bitters, lemon, and maple syrup
    • Tastes exactly like a boozy Moroccan mint tea, but cold and refreshing. Perfect for a scorching summer day in Milan
  • Cappuccino and/or Caffe Shakerato (if you're in the mood for coffee)
    • Caffe Shakerato: shot of espresso (sometimes with sugar, sometimes with vanilla liquor) shaken to create a creamy texture and foamy top layer

Important Details:

  • Hours of operation: always open
  • Address: Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 43

Rita & Cocktails

Just up the road and around the corner from MAG is another one of our regular spots for aperitivo. The space is like a modern-American diner with vintage Americana art finds. Their cocktail menu is unique and never disappoints.

Aside from the drinks, their aperitivo food spread is stellar. Your drink arrives with a small tray full of vegetable crudité, Cerignola olives, chips & dip, as well as 2-3 courses of accompanying dishes, such as focaccia, grilled shrimp, or beef tartar. All of the food is deliciously paired to any cocktail on the menu.

Simply put, Rita’s alluring vibe coupled with great food + drink is why it’s one of our favorite finds!

Things to look out for:

  • Can get very crowded, try to make a reservation on weekends
  • Their ‘stand’ at the Mercato Metropolitano offers the full cocktail menu, as well as some interesting specials (like a watermelon cooler with fresh watermelon juice, vodka, and lime. mmmMMM)

Favorite Cocktails:

  • Ginsen
    • Secret family recipe
    • Think gin, ginger, soda, lime…
  • The Hacker
    • Fino sherry, bitter Campari, cherry liquor, lemon juice, soda
    • Tastes like a refined cherry cola

Important Details:

  • Hours of operation: 18:30 to 2:00
  • Address: Via Angelo Fumagalli 1
  • https://www.facebook.com/RitaCocktails/

Pisacco

From the owners of Dry (in our opinion, the best pizza in Milan) comes a really classy and delectable aperitivo treat.

Pisacco is a reservation-only aperitivo that comes with plate after plate of small, delicious ‘how-long-can-I-savor-this-bite’ food. This isn’t to say that you only get a few small bites; after 10 different plates of food you’ll walk out of this aperitivo feeling like you had a full and incredible tasting menu (and its only 5 euros/person)!

Things to look out for:

  • Cocktail menu is focused on classic cocktails, wine, and beer – they don’t offer special cocktails, but they do the classics and whatever you want very well
  • Aperitivo doesn’t come with the usual suspects (i.e. the classic meat, cheese, and olives deal). Think pickled vegetables, soups, dips, grilled octopus, varieties of fish crudo and tartar, fresh-baked savory pastries, and other crazy surprises!
  • Parmesan crisps and pork rinds are incredibly delicious 
  • If they bring out a tomato gazpacho looking dip, you’ve lucked out (it’s a tomato-based bread dip which is worth savoring every last bite)
  • All the food is set up on a beautiful display that looks like a buffet, but it’s notfor you to serve yourself! Try not to make this mistake as they will bring each aperitivo ‘course’ to you… not your run-of-the-mill aperitivo that’s for sure

Important Details:

  • Hours of operation: 12:00 to 15:00, 19:00 to 1:00 // closed Mondays
  • Address: Via Solferino, 48
  • Website: http://pisacco.it

N’Ombra de Vin

Tucked away on a quiet street in the Brera neighborhood is one of our favorite spots to impress friends visiting from out of town. As you walk down the steps to this well-hidden enoteca (wine bar), you enter a massive wine cellar filled to the brim with boxes and bottles of wine.

A limited menu of small dishes comes to your table along with a more extensive list for wines. The wine list is eclectic but very certainly well thought out.

Things to look out for:

  • This is a great spot for aperitivo when the weather isn’t so nice out … very cosy
  • Try an eccentric Italian wine that you can’t find outside of the country as they stock plenty of cool and hard-to-find wines— we had a glass of Arneis from the piedmont region (tasted like a Riesling) and Friuli white white (tasted like a lighter Chablis), both were delicious!
  • It gets pretty cold down in the cave… don’t forget to bring some extra layers

Important Details:

  • Hours of operation: 10:00 to 2:00, everyday
  • Address: Via San Marco, 2
  • Website: http://www.nombradevin.it/pages/home1.html