Milan's Best Aperitivos Trail (with map!)


Aperitivo.

Rough translation: Happy Hour...on steroids.

One Negroni, one Campari Fizz, and two plates of [relatively] free goodness.

After hearing from over three people that Milan wasn't worth a visit, I almost didn't take the time to research the city on my own and discover what they must not have: the elusive aperitivo originated in Milan.

This is big, people.

What may have begun as a few chips or mixed nuts to accompany a beverage order has blossomed into a beautiful embarrassment of alcohol and "snacks" that are yours for the gluttonous taking.

Find them (all of them!) from 6-9 p.m. all throughout this undervalued city.

Scenes from our free day of tourism at the Church of San Maurizio. Dont' miss it!

While there is a caveat—drink prices actually increase—you still get a strong specialty cocktail and a hefty appetizer (or two...or twenty) for around €8, which is easily the price of a cheap drink in New York.

Before you hit the streets, don't miss The Rules section at the bottom of this post!

We only had one day in Milan (see my guide to free Milan tourism), so we conquered all the must-sees while the sun shined, then went back to the hostel for a power-up (read: nap). Afterwards, we set out at six o'clock to hit Milan's best bars for the aperitivo.

duomo milan cathedral
The Duomo Cathedral of Milan

After much research on the must-not-miss spots, I've compiled a map that I will boldly and aptly dub the Best Spots in Milan for Aperitivo Map, and yes, you should follow it.

Since we had an all-day subway pass (only €4.50!), we hit up the artsy Brera district, then headed down toward the bustling and popular Navigli area.

Prepare yourself.

With only one night, we condensed our explorations to the lettered blue points, but if you have more time, check out all the highly-reviewed purple points that we unfortunately missed.

View Milan Aperitivo Tour in a larger map

Always thinking ahead, we [vaguely] countered the effects of all the forthcoming eating and drinking by hoofing it to Fioraio Bianchi (pink marker). Aptly-named for its switch from flower shop by-day into chic restaurant/bar by-night, you'll find that it's mildly panned in reviews for sub-par dinners.

But you go for the aperitivo, not the dinner, fool.

This is why you sleep in airports and eat homemade granola when hungry: so you can afford a night of aperitivos.
At Fioraio Bianchi, we tried eggplant lasagna, grilled vegetables, squid salad, cerignola olives, sauteed pork, and smoked trout. Whew!

Definitely do not miss Fioraio Bianchi. The drinks were strong and the food was made with care. My first experience with a negroni (the house special) was literally mouth-numbing, and John was happy as a clam with his campari fizz. 

The gourmet grub is set out buffet-style, and oh what a buffet it is! By far it was the classiest food of the night and in the most intimate setting. The bartender even gave me a flower (I think he pitied my appalling Italian).

You'll find Ristorante Claudio (green marker) up next on the map, but it's been reported as CLOSED FOREVER and I'm not updating the map, so I'm sorry.

The Naviglio Grande, approaching the Navigli district
John hanging out with my flowers at El Brellin

The metro then carried us and our newly-gained weight to the Navigli district.

Unable to ignore the air's buzzing energy, we realized that this is the area where people flock for the aperitivo.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's the "best" area, but it does mean come here if you want to mingle, be seen, and eat a lot...and probably drink too much.

Before you get too food-full, stop at La Vineria--a no-brainer for wine lovers. It serves regional wine and olive oil out of huge steel vats at "farmhouse prices," making two wonderful products more accessible to the average person and more sustainable for the average earth.

The taste may be a bit farmhouse as well, but sometimes you just gotta get down on the farm. The plates looked simple yet delicious and considering that a bottle of house wine is five euros (during aperitivo), this might just qualify as the place of your dreams.

You read it right: glasses of wine starting at one euro.
The scene at La Vineria (proto credit: Yelp)

Not to be lulled into a wine-eyed haze, we made our way to El Brellin (blue marker). Along the way we had intended to stop by a recommended spot called Banco, but we skipped it when we saw that the aperitivo food was crudité and bread (come on).

Such was not the case, however, at El Brellin.

This traditional Italian restaurant doubles as a hip and more-economical spot for aperitivo and takes advantage of its location on a tiny canal with extensive outdoor seating. The drinks are divine and while the buffet isn't exactly glamorous, it does offer some nice typical Italian options (let's just pretend we didn't see you, chips and salsa).

The house special is the moscow mule (recipe here) and the word "special" does not even begin to describe it.

Approaching El Brellin just in time for outdoor seating and a spot by their mini canal.
This, my friends, is the Moscow Mule with three absurdly generous slices of fresh ginger.

Crossing the canal, we looped around to a place called Slice. Again with the buffet.

I had been hoping to find a more personalized experience in at least one of these places, but it seems that most restaurants have hopped on the buffet train. Hell, whatever, it's easy to please a glutton.

Nonetheless, it made me miss the time I spent eating in Granada, Spain, Spain. The buffet at Slice might have been the biggest yet (take that superlative how you want), but the unfriendly service and blaring techno music lead us quickly out of the bar to a boat/bar/restaurant just a short walk upstream called Delle Mole (yellow marker).

Friends, I might have gotten the name mixed up on that one. As you might gather, it was the last stop of a few bars (who's counting?), but just look for the restaurant on a boat. Shouldn't be hard to miss.

Delle Mole's boatsauraunt

Although I hadn't done any research on this place (oh noooo!), it was amazing. Despite being filled with people, our small table overlooking the clear Ticino River water was somehow quietly intimate.

The buffet spread was bountiful with traditional Italian foods both hot and cold, and while my excitement on buffets had been waning since at least an hour before (and oh what an hour of suffering!), we mustered up enough enthusiasm to make it through our plates yet again.

Fresh cheese and celery leaves (hm?), pork sautees, a few thick frittatas, pizzas, lots of fried things, fish sticks (...), and more! Succumb to the buffet.

Purist foodie complaints about buffets aside, we certainly managed to enjoy ourselves, and so will you.

If we're talking value for money, it's definitely all throughout the Milan aperitivo scene, and if you're going out for drinks anyway, why not hit the spots that have egregiously large buffets? There's bound to be something in there that that passionate Italian chef just can't refrain from putting his/her heart into.

**Update** On a revisit to the area in 2016, I found Ugo Bar right off Via Corsico. Apart from the cozy and quirky atmosphere, I had a stellar wine and a NON-BUFFET aperitivo option. What's more, it was delicious.

My updated advice? Hit Ugo Bar first.

At this point, it was a free-for-all (for the record, aperitivo hour was almost over and what would they have done with all that leftover food?! Better feed it to my hyena boyfriend...)
A view of the Navigli Grande by night and its bars jam packed with buffets for aperitivo hour. You will eat a lot, but I can't promise that you'll eat well...
  

After Delle Mole, we got on our wobbly legs (was it the drinks or the river?) and began the walk home, where—lo and behold—we were intercepted by a gelateria.

Cruel trick of the gods!

Surely it is a rule that every Italian aperitivo trek should be finished with gelato and I think it's important to follow rules.

Ronomata Gelateria, at the upper point of where all the canals meet, was buzzing and grand with its vintage decorations of cone-lined walls and golden cloches to cover each gelato.

I sampled the dark chocolate (my standard test to decide if the rest is worth it), and decided on a definitive "yes."

I'll note that this was our second gelateria visit of the day. So?

And thus the night ended.

Lured in by the vintage style and obvious popularity of Rinomata Gelateria
When a shop doesn't even need to show you the product, you know it's gonna be good.

I'll mention that loads of other small bars promising drink offers and proudly displaying colossal buffets lined the canal as we headed home from Navagli. I encourage you to cautiously assume that many of these places are full of tourists and unlovingly-made foods.

I did my research, so trust the Chowgypsy.

Some places have taken the aperitivo idea and flourished, others have taken it and completely missed the point. If you're on a study abroad trip, go ahead, eat your heart out for cheap, but if that's not the case, choose carefully.


Finally, a few rules for aperitivo hour:


  • These aren't Golden Corral buffets. You are being trusted to serve yourself smallish appetizer portions of the food, so don't be a stupid tourist about it. The Italians typically pick up only a few bites worth of food.



  • Try the specialty drink.



  • If your goal is to see what Milan nightlife has to offer, pace yourself. Keep it to one drink per restaurant and that will also keep you from getting second helpings of food you've already tried.


  • Don't eat for the sake of eating. Food options are endless, so only select the foods that you really want to try. (Don't be such an American.)



  • Most places do the aperitivo thing from 6-9pm, although some of the places on Navigli Canal go later (how long has that food been out, though?). If you're on a mission to eat at Milan's best aperitivo spots in one night, be brave, be hungry, begin early, and pace yourself.


  • Getting ready to tackle Navigli

    Now that our Milan whirlwind is finished, we're heading to a small vineyard in Northeastern Italy to HelpX.

    Local wine, Bernese mountain dogs, and Italian Alps to come...stay tuned by signing up to my mailing list!

    Not ready to leave the computer? Check out my writer's blog at RoadWritten.com!


    5 comments:

    1. So helpful! I'll be visiting Milan in a few weeks and will definitely follow your map.

      Thank you!

      ReplyDelete
    2. Its usually really quiet and intimate here which makes it perfect for meeting people or dates. Candles flickering dark atmosphere and being surrounded by couples feels good.

      ReplyDelete
    3. Our manager was the one who saved the day after a few hitches. If you are looking for a space for an intimate wedding celebration, for example, this would be perfect.

      ReplyDelete
    4. I went to Fioraio Bianchi because of your list and it had the best food of any bar we went to! Great recommendation. And the moscow mule became my new favorite drink. I will definitely be putting those two on my Milan blog post. (I have a blog focused on traveling for food!)

      ReplyDelete
    5. Yayyyy I am SO happy you liked it!! I'll be checking out your site!!

      ReplyDelete

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