What is l’aperitivo? Happy Hour is the straightforward translation! However, L’aperitivo goes way beyond that.
In the land of aperitivo, Milan, it is almost a synonym to the Milanese lifestyle. Every day from 6pm to 10pm, bars and local restaurants put out various plates of finger foods – usually cold cuts, artisan cheeses, pasta salads, and many more. The just-off-work crowd enters the bar in groups, each orders a drink, and take as much food as they want.
It is then a buffet? Well, Yes and No.
While Milan’s younger generation feeds on cheap, low-quality “apericena (aperitivo as dinner)” more and more often, the tradition of l’aperitivo is in fact all about slow, small-amount, quality eating. Especially in Milan, l’aperitivo consists most of the social life. A date, a birthday, a catching up with old friends, a holiday gathering, a casual chat with colleagues… everything simply takes place in aperitivo. To become a real Milanese in-the-know (with good taste, of course), here are the essential ABCs you have to know about this unique tradition:
1. Time for Aperitivo? All days, Every day.
Simply put, every day is the prime to have aperitivo. This is how everyone living in Milan socializes with each other, and for a reason. The concept itself is already wonderful: sit on a tale with friends, take a drink, savor a few quality snacks (free!), and watch the beautiful Milanese people around.
2. Look for Quality, not Quantity
Don’t forget that l’aperitivo is supposed to be the pre-dinner drinks. It’s meant to open the appetite before feasting on a formal Italian dinner, not to abuse the appetite. Many bars offer low-price aperitivo catered for budget tourists and students, who fill their stomachs with oily potato chips, sandwiches, and cold pizzas. That’s not how the classic Milanese aperitivo looks like.
The high-quality aperitivo doesn’t come as a buffet. It comes as an artfully curated plate. Chefs and bartenders fill the plate with thin slices of prosciuttos, cheeses from different regions, and seasonal veggie specialties. Though each bar has its own way of doing it, the complimentary plate should always be a combination of favors and colors. Going cheap simply won’t do it.
3. People watching at its best
Watching the different Milanese crowd of distinct styles is my personal favorite. During the Milan Fashion Weeks, definitely head to the Brera district for aperitivos, and sit around ultra-trendy models and photographers for some eye candies. Some of the city’s classic aperitivo bars such as Bar Basso and Bulgari Bar, attract a very stylish crowd. You’ll probably run into an important designer or high-end professional by the bar. The bars themselves are highly Instagram-worthy too, so now you know why.
4. Milan is the aperitivo capital, period
Let the other European cities envy. In Milan, aperitivo is not only treated as a ritual, and it actually tastes better. Even though Spritz is originally from Venice and Negroni is from Florence, Milan is the real stronghold for this Italian pre-dinner tradition. Aperitivo kind of encapsulates the essence of Milanese eating habit – small, beautiful, and always high quality.