Bartender Magazine Italian Aperitivo Tour Part 1: Milan

Duomo di Milano

Words by Amy Spanton. Photography David Spanton

In October this year, David and I were lucky enough to spend three weeks fulfilling a long-time dream and heading to Italy for an Aperitivo pilgrimage. Our plan?

We wanted to go to as many aperitivo bars, tiny wine bars and distilleries as we could. While we knew that we would get some incredible content for the magazine we were also on a reconnaissance mission for our bar business, both Piccolo Bar and the new bar, Vermuteria, which will be opening in February 2023. So, you won’t see too many top shelf cocktail bars in the following pages but lots of wine bars, aperitivo caffes, and more.

We were also lucky enough to be given the royal treatment in visiting some of the distilleries and brands you will see in these posts.

The streets of Milan

Milan gets a bit of a bad rap. It’s not as pretty as some of the other cities in Italy. It’s densely populated and they battle with some smog. When we were there in October it was unseasonally warm with daytime temps reaching 25 degrees. God love the Milanese though. They were in their full autumn wardrobes, regardless of the heat.

Like all Italian cities, the historical buildings are magnificent. And the little alleyways dotted with cafes and trattorias are full of twinkling fairy lights and awnings. It’s so refreshing to see a city nearly free from Krispy Kreme, and McDonald’s. Hats off to the Italians for limiting the market for these behemoth chains and continuing to support the small businesses.

In the city centre, down one of the alleys, the trattorias et al are packed with locals for lunch. The Five Butchers does a roaring trade serving up just a handful of options. Steak tartare done three ways or a seared steak (seasoned to perfection) with chilli potatoes or spinach and wine. It was packed with 80 per cent of the customers eating steak tartare for lunch. Can you imagine?

So here are a few of our highlights from our time in Milan:

Cantine Isola dal 1896
Via Paolo Sarpi, 30, 20154 Milano @cantine_isola
Our taxi driver told us we were heading to one of the trendiest parts of town, with the gentrification of Chinatown in full effect. This place is basically a bottle shop with lots of seats and people spilling out onto the paved roads outside. A place that could maybe fit 20 inside was accommodating 60+ with outside aperitivo drinking. Big buckets of Italian wine and small plates of snacks. A must visit.

Via Plinio, 39, 20020 Milano
The place that is credited with the invention of the Spagliato Negroni (for a correct pronunciation, check with your favourite Italian!) For those of you who follow us on Instagram you will have seen the story we posted from Bar Basso. The young bartender was making us a Cynar Spritz. The more senior bartender was talking to him in Italian. We had no idea what he said. But the entire Australian Italian Bartending community told us pretty quick. The young bartender was being scolded for touching his nose.
An authentic old Italian style bar with some cheesy elements for sure. No one really needs a negroni in a schooner glass but these things are flying out the door.

Osteria Vini Scelti
Via Melzo, 12 20129 Milan
This owner-operated Osteria was packed full of locals, snacking on everything from delicious chees and charcuterie plates, a bowl of slow cooked horse with crusty bread or chicken livers and fig mustard on top of pan-fried brioche. A huge wine-selection, lots of local amari (we picked up a bottle of the local Amaro Eroica here) and a very local vibe.

Camparino in Galleria
The Galleria in Milan is the centre of the city. The stunning Galleria sits adjacent to the city’s incredible Duomo. Fun fact, the building of the Duomo was ongoing for more than 600 years. Inside the Galleria is the bar dedicated to Campari, which was recently restored. It’s a true Milan institution with the aperitivo style standing bar downstairs and the fancy new cocktail haven upstairs. For more check out our Campari experience which we will post in coming days.

Torrefazione Caffè Ernani
Corso Buenos Aires, 20, 20124 Milano
The hot pursuit for delicious espresso is a real thing, especially when you’re in the spiritual home of coffee. This was our favourite espresso bar. The caffe dates back to 1909 at the same location and they added a roasting laboratory in 2015. With 12 different coffees to choose from, and a selection of perfect pastries.