These succeeding words you are about to read are for you. Like The Hero With A Thousand Faces, it will start with an introduction, the midpoint, and by the end of this article, an understanding that all of us—our experiences—are mostly universal; that you, no matter where you are in the world, share a common essence.
Ready? Let’s begin.
An airy, buzzing sound from the jet engine. It doesn’t really matter where you are, be it couch or business (or first) class cabin—you would hear that noise. A stopover in Dubai, Doha, London, or Amsterdam; a couple of meals in, and the juices and booze that came with it (you decide), all you want to do is for the plane to land safely, get through immigration, get a taxi and your hotel.
But that jet-lag kicks in, or that adventurous side of you wakes up. Surely you wouldn’t want to just stay in your room, watch Netflix and go to sleep. No way. That’s always what you have done, and you are not going to do that this time.
After all, you are in Italy.
You step right outside of your home, away from home. There is still light, and the streets of via Montenapoleone or Brera are bustling with people. You decide to blend in, walking slowly as you observed the locals, at the same time you couldn’t help but stop to look at the glass windows of the shops—Gucci, Vuitton, Bulgari—brands you adore and items you possess.
You take a turn, but all the walking was beginning to feel like you are dragging your feet. You need to sit, and at the back of your head, all you want to do is get something to drink, eat and crash for the day.
It is time for an aperitivo.
Something you cannot escape once you set foot in Italy. The French do it too with their aperitifs, but there is something about the Italian aperitivo that is synonymous with the word ‘chill’ that they seem to have perfected.
After a long day of whatever it is you deem as ‘modern life responsibilities’, the Italians have managed to come up with the art of letting loose—to sit at the bar (the local cafe that serves your espressos and caffe latte), have a glass of wine or two, cocktails and local spirits with a bit of something to snack on through as you talk with your friends, co-workers, or parents who let their kids loose at the nearby park—there is almost always a bar somewhere where you can relax and get you through that hour between four to seven, ie, have something to drink and nibble on but it is not all that—you just want to sit down to unwind.
Sure, you can do it in the privacy of your own hotel too. Wine is inexpensive, and you can certainly have a glass (or three) as soon as you get to your hotel, order some bruschetta, slices of your favorite salami, and cheese, and have for yourself a nice food platter, but then again that’s beside the point. You are now in a different place, in a different country, and you want to explore the city and do as a Romans (in this instance, the Italians) do.
If you are famished and couldn’t be bothered to go to a restaurant, you can certainly find a bar where they serve food buffet-style with your cocktails, and who would want to have dinner after that? The selection is massive, from rice salads and couscous; salami, pasta, roasted potatoes, sandwiches, and if you’re lucky—Indian curries, pakoras, etc., and they are absolutely delish.
Milan specifically is famous for its aperitivo (although obviously, the whole country partakes), it is practically invented there. It has everything, from designer bars and hotels at via Montenapoleone down to the streets that lead to the Duomo; after adoring the beautiful architecture, visiting The Last Supper by Leonardo the Vinci, and shopping (or window shopping) the best of the best in the fashion capital of Italy, there is no greater thing to do but to relax your feet, sit down at a bar and order oneself a Negroni, prosecco, or whatever cocktail that tickles your fancy.
Every small town, city, and the whole of Italy has got something to offer. There is always something to see and experience, just like how I serendipitously stumbled upon a headband shop in Citta Alta in Bergamo, and looking through the glass floor, one can see the Roman mosaic floor, and beautiful discoveries like that are worth a treasure.
And what do those happy little accidents got to do with having a cocktail or two? Once you have found your own ‘local,’ your favorite spot to chill, believe me, you will always go back. I have had my fair share of aperitivi, from the bars at the park near my home to designer-owned bars in the city; the fact that smaller bars would offer you a cocktail for €8 is just as good as the ones that are €18-€24 (although obviously, you may want to brag having a really good Instagram selfie at let’s say, Dolce & Gabbana Martini Bar,) what is truly important is how you feel while you are at that bar, how welcomed and how they treat you as the only client at that very moment—difficult for some to execute, seeing as there are about 20 more people coming in to have their aperitivo as well.
Smart-casual dressing is key (although I do like dressing to the nines as I presume you would too); some of my favorite places in Milan for cocktails (and dinners too) are Terrazza Triennale, one of the poshest bars that are located in Palazzo dell’Arte. To get to the rooftop bar, one must pass through the art gallery, which IMO just adds more to the experience to finally sit down to have your cocktails and enjoy the amazing nightly glow of the Milan skyline with Castello Sforzesco nearby for that perfect selfie background.
Cerasio 7, another rooftop bar & restaurant boasting a swimming pool on the terrace sitting area, is another fabulous place to visit that has gracious staff, amazing cocktails, and the food that comes with your aperitivo—sublime. With a branch in Mykonos and Milan, Cerasio 7 is owned by Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared. If that does not get a stamp of approval from the fashion crowd to come to visit and sip a cocktail or five (I know I did, finishing off with a dram of Macallan whisky, and yes, I got hammered), then maybe Dolce & Gabbana Martini Bar or the bar at Bulgari Hotel might be to your liking.
Lastly, my new favorite, Armani/Nobu. If there has been a staff trained to perfection in terms of top-class service, I would give a 5-star rating for the crew at Nobu. It is typical for guests, foreign or local to encounter a mediocre waiter or two which ruins the experience for you, Nobu will make you forget all the bad apples of your (booze-filled) fine-dining history—this is luxury at its finest. Try their Basilisco cocktail for that refreshing basil-infused cocktail, or Lavender Fizz, just perfect on a warm, sunny evening as pre-dinner drinks.
The bars I have mentioned are not ‘top my head’ selections to try for you on your next trip to Europe, these bars are the best of the best of what Milan has to offer, and there are so much more, like the Nottingham Forest bar if you are feeling adventurous to try their cocktails infused with something, created by some sort of molecular science, served cold in quirky, skull-shaped mugs with smoke flowing out of its rim.
No trip to Italy will not be complete without chilling at the bar after shopping till you drop (and let’s face it—most anyone comes to Milan to do just that,) and you might say that is one of the things about Italy that you learn as part of your experience, you become part of it, and it is something that you can bring with you.
So now the trip is over, you hop on a plane or two, and at the end of that journey, your driver is waiting for you to drive you home. You just want to crash and call it a night, not having enough energy to unpack, and you decide to do that tomorrow. Days go by, you are back at your usual routine and you think back on your memories of the travels you’ve done just a few days ago, weeks, or a month ago. You get out of your office, and before heading towards your car, you spot a restaurant with a nice outdoor sitting area; it seems to call to you. You look at your watch, you know you still have time, and after all, you might just get stuck in traffic anyway so you tell yourself, “You know what? I fancy an aperitivo.”