milan apertivo

Experience the artistry of Ceresio 7’s bartenders. (Photo: Luca Giatti)

Eat + Drink

Sip and Sup: Where to Have Your Aperitivo in Milan

Aperitivo, pre-dinner drinks accompanied by complimentary nibbles, is a time-honored tradition in Milan, a city where dinner starts late. Many trace its roots to northern Italy, with some claiming that the practice of consuming an appetite-stimulating aperitif got its start in Turin and others arguing it began in Milan.

What we do know is that the first factory making Campari, the cardinal-red liqueur that plays a starring role in many aperitifs and cocktails, was opened on the outskirts of Milan in the early 20th century.

Over the years, aperitivo has become an integral part of the city’s social scene, in some cases even replacing dinner as the main evening meal. Here are seven spots that are perfect for a leisurely few hours spent drinking, socializing and snacking.

Pasticceria Massimo

Run by the Crinò family, this neighborhood pastry shop in Porta Romana may be renowned for its sweets, but that’s just one part of the equation — the other can be found behind the bar.

It’s here that alchemist Luca Crinò concocts incredible cocktails using his own brand of vermouth, specialty bottles of spirits and homemade extras, which crowd the counter in hand-labeled jars.

A plate of snacks comes with each drink order, and it should come as no surprise that the savory pastries are sublime — buttery yet oh, so light.

Bar Basso

Blissfully unchanged since the 1960s, Bar Basso may have many of the aesthetic markers that currently read as hip — retro furniture, pastel colors and light-colored wooden accents — but this spot is steeped in history.

It was here that the Negroni sbagliato (a “wrong” Negroni in which Campari and vermouth are mixed with sparkling wine instead of gin) was first invented; today it’s served in an outrageously large goblet with an equally enormous cube of ice.

La Prosciutteria

After the sun sets, the Navigli District, so named after the two canals that run through it, comes alive with revelers who walk the streets and crowd around outdoor tables. One of the most coveted seats is at La Prosciutteria, a popular Tuscan spot along the Naviglio Grande that serves up lavish charcuterie boards.

The wine list is carefully selected yet still wide-ranging, and a good number of wines are available by the glass. If you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of Italian wines, the staff is very helpful in selecting one to fit your tastes.

Cantine Isola

milan apertivo
Ample nibbles await at Cantine Isola. (Photo: Luca Giatti)

This wine bar feels more like a wine closet, albeit in the best way possible. The walls of the small space are stacked with bottles from Italy and elsewhere, each with handmade labels describing the source and sometimes even tasting notes.

The staff members here know their stuff and are happy to chat about wine in English or Italian. You’ll feel like a regular in no time, chatting it up with other customers as you all crowd around the bar to sip your wine and sample snacks.

Fonderie Milanesi

Many bars in Milan have gone the way of the aperitivo buffet: an extensive spread of carb-heavy, cheesy fare meant to fill you up on the cheap.

But Fonderie Milanesi is one of the few that shows restraint, putting together an elegant spread of eight to ten delicious dishes that can serve as either a light snack or a main meal and are best washed down with one of the bar’s specialty cocktails.

Located in a former foundry at the end of a gated lane, the cavernous bar has the feel of a hideaway, which is only amplified by the secret garden out back.

Ceresio 7

milan apertivo
Catch a view from the roof at Ceresio 7. (Photo: Courtesy of Ceresio 7)

If you want to hobnob with Milan’s elite, a visit to Ceresio 7 is in order. Located on the top floor of an otherwise unremarkable building, the sleek restaurant and bar offers a grand view of the city’s skyline.

But that’s not the only spectacle; owned by Dean and Dan Caten, the Canadian fashion designers behind the label Dsquared2, Ceresio 7 is a place to see and be seen, particularly during aperitivo, when the poolside couches fill up with the well-heeled.

N’Ombra de Vin

A wine cellar in the truest sense of the word, N’Ombra de Vin is a subterranean sanctuary for a wide swath of Milanese society — wine lovers, society types, creatives and professionals — as well as visitors looking to get off their feet after a long day of shopping and art hopping in Brera.

What used to be a wine shop catering to discerning oenophiles has now morphed into a wine bar offering food and parties with DJs and live music. Before you know it, one pre-dinner glass of vino has turned into a proper night out.