To make my first aperitivo in Milan memorable, I went for the legendary Negroni Sbagliato at Bar Basso.
In this cocktail bar, the iconic drink was accidentally invented by Mirko Stocchetto in 1968.
If you're an American like me, you might be wondering what an apertivio is? Let's cover that first.
Aperitivo, An Italian Tradition
Just as Italians enjoy gathering for coffee, they also like getting together at the end of the workday for a drink at their local bars.
Unlike the United States, where the happy hour tradition focuses on drink discounts to entice customers, Italians are more measured and focused on proper digestion.
Which explains why popular aperitivo cocktails are made using bitter liquors like Campari (from Milan) and Aperol (from Padua).
The primary effect of these drinks is to get your digestive juices flowing ahead of dinner.
Snacks are often served, from the basics such as olives and potato chips to savory pastries and mini-pizzas.
In recent years, some bars have started offering buffets where patrons can graze on whatever they prefer as they sip their cocktails.
If you're on a tight budget, you might even be able to get a dinner's worth of food out of some buffets. I did this later in Florence one night just for kicks.
The most common Italian drinks ordered during aperitivo in Milan are:
- Negroni - Gin, vermouth, and Campari garnished with an orange slice
- Negroni Sbagliato - Prosecco, vermouth, and Campari, orange slice
- Aperol Spritz - Prosecco, Aperol, and soda
As you can see, the difference between the classic Negroni and Negroni Sbagliato is sparkling wine substituted for gin in the latter.
This was the mistake made by Venice-born Mirko Stocchetto, a master mixologist who took over Bar Basso from the previous owner, Giuseppe Basso, in the mid-1960s.
Another popular aperitivo cocktail is the Americano, which is like a Negroni except with soda water instead of gin, and it's a lighter, less alcoholic drink.
Wine is also typical during aperitivo, especially sparkling wines like Prosecco and their related cocktails. The Bellini, created in Venice, is made of Prosecco and peach juice.
Expect to pay full price for your cocktail, possibly even a little more than the regular price, to account for the snacks provided. Aperitivo time usually runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Related: Dinner at VUN Andrea Aprea
My First Negroni Sbagliato
On my third and final night in Milan, I took an Uber to Bar Basso at about 5:45 p.m. The bright red neon sign of this Milanese institution is hard to miss.
It was a crisp October afternoon, so I wanted to sit outside, but I wasn't clear on whether I could sit down at a table or have to wait to be seated.
I alternated waiting patiently for attention and motioning my arms to speed things up. Eventually, I was seated at a table near the bar's entrance and handed a menu.
Bar Basso boasts the ability to make over 500 mixed drinks, but I was there for the iconic one.
I ordered the Negroni Sbagliato for $11.50 (€10) and a few minutes later was brought a wide-rimmed glass with the bright reddish-orange cocktail, along with olives, potato chips, and some savory pastries.
I'm not fond of olives, so I started nibbling on the chips. The pastries weren't exceptional, but it's hard not to eat them when placed in front of you.
Before this trip to Italy, I'd avoided cocktails with bitters because they didn't sound appealing. I've also stayed away from vermouths.
The odds were against me for enjoying the Negroni Sbagliato; however, I gave it a try. And it was okay.
I didn't love it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the new lesson in cocktail culture and the setting for my first aperitivo in Milan.
Visit Bar Basso
- Address: Via Plinio 39, Milan, Italy
- Dress: Casual