There’s no better way to soak in the atmosphere of Milan than an aperitivo. A Milanese rite of passage, an aperitivo is the surest way to adapt to the city, “do as the locals do” and enjoy a night out.
The basic concept of an aperitivo (or apertif) is that of an American happy hour. The reality, however, is much more than that.
While American happy hours typically include getting drunk after work on discounted drinks accompanied by soggy potato chips, the Italian aperitivo is more like relaxing with a drink and a small plate of finger food while gossiping with friends or networking with colleagues. American happy hour is in ugly work flats. Italian happy hour is in heels and sunglasses.
Though the aperitivo is celebrated throughout Italy, it’s Milan that has brought the ritual to its celebrated status. The aperitivo is a deeply ingrained routine of the Milanese, one they perform, as always, with style and class.
An aperitivo is the time of pre-dinner drinks accompanied by small appetizers and light fare. The buffet can include cheeses and deli meats, quiches, vegetables and finger size pieces of pizza or focaccia. Of course the idea is to nibble a bit while chatting to help your cocktail go down with ease, but it seems over the years the tradition has changed. Now young Italians and tourists frequent the aperitivo in lieu of dinner, filling up on the hearty dishes bars have started providing.
To take part you first have to choose your location. There are endless locations in Milan to enjoy an aperitivo but favorite locations are along the Navigli, a neighborhood named after the canals that cut through it, or in Brera, an artistic neighborhood gone high class.
Anytime from 7 pm until 9 pm these aperitivo hotspots will be overflowing. Window shop for the one with the best food or do as the truly chic do and go for the best cocktails, since you’ll only be eating one or two olives anyway. (Gotta maintain that figure!) Though the rooftop, hotel and designer bars have maintained the high-class style to serve just a few salty treats to wash down your cocktail, most bars nowadays offer an array of dishes.
A cocktail in Milan costs anywhere from 8 – 10 euro. For that price you can get a drink (beer and wine will cost the same as a cocktail during aperitivo hours) and unlimited refills of food. After you’ve ordered feel free to move up to the buffet, grab a tiny plastic plate, a fork and a napkin and take your pick. It’s definitely one of the most inexpensive things to do in Milan.
Of course free food is an advantage, but the real draw is a fun night out in Milan with friends. Travelers can get a real feel for the nightlife of Milan. Whether traveling or not, I don’t think it gets much better than sitting outside with a drink, snacks and friends watching the Milanese nightlife pass by.
See my ratings of the aperitivi I’ve personally tried on my Milan’s restaurant map here.