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The Appeals of the Italian Aperitivo

I adore the aperitivo part of meetings in Italy with friends or colleagues because it combines some of my favorite things: relaxed conversation, tasty beverages, and yummy snacks!

Excerpt below from 12/13/2021 Virtuoso article by Ingrid K. Williams can be found HERE.

Every region does it differently, but the pre-dinner ritual is perfect no matter where you sip. In the Italian tradition of aperitivo, the golden hour (or two) before dinner unspools in the company of friends and neighbors over a drink and small bites to eat. Considering that Italians typically eat lunch around 1 p.m. and dinner usually isn’t until 9 p.m. or later – an aperitivo tides you over. It’s also a warm-up for the meal to come: Derived from the Latin aperire (to open), an aperitivo is meant to stimulate, or open, the appetite before dinner. But what’s most important, I learned, is the social element, the daily pause to relax and catch up with acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and family. This explains why a simple cocktail and nibbles is also a cultural pillar synonymous with the Italian way of life.

During the pandemic, aperitivo bars were among the first places Italians went to reconnect after emerging from a strict, months-long lockdown. They offered both ample outdoor seating and the friendly, serendipitous encounters that many had desperately missed. Today, tables are still spaced a bit farther apart than usual and crowding is discouraged, but the convivial atmosphere has finally returned.

The origins of aperitivo are murky, but one of the earliest aperitivi was modern vermouth. Concocted by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Turin in 1786, vermouth is a fortified wine aromatized with herbs and spices. Intended to whet the appetite, this aromatic drink quickly gained popularity in the city’s grand cafés, where it remains a faultless aperitivo choice today. Traditionally, vermouth is served with ice and an orange slice, but these days, it’s equally popular in a spritz with soda water or sparkling wine. As important as the aperitivo, however, are the stuzzichini, the accompanying snacks that in Turin typically include bowls of nuts, chips, and olives, as well as a selection of focaccia, pizza, crostini, charcuterie, and cheese. But as with all things culinary in Italy, what is served during aperitivo varies greatly by region.

Only 80 miles east of Turin, Milan adopted a more-is-more approach to aperitivo, which gained popularity in the city in the early 1900s. Focusing on the food, bars across the city offer nightly buffets – staffed by servers these days – overflowing with pasta and rice dishes, salads and salumi, mini-sandwiches and pizzette, focaccia and fritto misto. During aperitivo hours (usually from 7 to 9 p.m.), drink prices include unlimited access to these buffets. Students and budget-conscious travelers often make it a meal, refilling their plates in what becomes an apericena, a portmanteau of “aperitivo” and “cena” (dinner).

In Milanese bars with buffets, quantity often trumps quality. But the Italian capital of fashion and design is also home to many marvelous aperitivo locales, ranging from speakeasy-style cocktail bars and glamorous rooftops to glitzy lounges and historic cafés. Instead of plastic plates at a buffet, bartenders may serve gourmet stuzzichini on large platters, or nuts and olives in silver bowls. But wherever you go in Milan, the drinks of choice often involve Campari, the bitter, ruby-red liqueur invented there in the mid 1800s by Gaspare Campari. It’s an integral element in many classic Italian aperitivo cocktails, including the negroni, the Americano, and the Campari spritz.

While Campari is omnipresent in Milan, in Venice, it’s all about Aperol. The Aperol spritz has become wildly popular in America recently, but it’s long been an aperitivo standby in Italy, where the fizzy, neon-orange cocktail is also known as a spritz Veneziano – or in Venice, just a spritz.

On the topic of aperitivo, Venice differs from its northern neighbors in other ways as well. In Milan and Turin, aperitivo is often a seated affair, but before the pandemic, you could rarely find a table in Venice – at least not where locals go, which is to tiny wine bars called bacari. The Venetian versions of aperitivo snacks, cicchetti, are similar in style to Basque pintxos and are ordered separately. Expect toasts topped with baccalà mantecato (whipped cod) and marinated anchovies, speared polpette (meatballs), fried zucchini blossoms, and sarde in saor (sweet-and-sour sardines). Some of Venice’s oldest bacari have been around for centuries, long before “aperitivo” entered the Italian lexicon. Yet these historic bars remain among the most popular spots for a bite, a spritz, and a canalside chat in the pleasant hours before dinner.

Italians in nearly every city and small town throughout the country have, over time, embraced the aperitivo tradition that began in the north, albeit with a more relaxed approach. The regional differences that were so clear in Turin, Milan, and Venice quickly muddy as you move south.

Essential Aperitivo Addresses

Turin Classic cafés abound in the birthplace of vermouth. Opened in 1903, Caffè Torino, on the central Piazza San Carlo, is one of the city’s landmark aperitivo destinations. Beneath a glowing MARTINI sign in a baroque loggia, well-heeled patrons sip vanilla-scented Carpano vermouth and nibble on a bountiful variety of stuzzichini. Another nearby gem is Caffè Mulassano, an intimate café with ornate boiserie that claims to have invented tramezzini, crustless finger sandwiches served on silver plates. A slightly younger crowd gathers beneath the portico outside La Drogheria, a trendy café known for its creative cocktails and hearty aperitivo platters that can easily double as dinner.

Milan Aperitivo is a beloved everyday ritual in Milan, where many bars offer generous buffets of pasta, pizza, focaccia, and more in the hours before dinner. Among the city’s most stylish locales is Ceresio 7, a penthouse restaurant and bar with two outdoor pools and panoramic views across the city. In these glamorous environs – Dimore Studio designed the interiors – aperitivo can be served in a poolside cabana, where drinks are paired with beautiful, bite-size tapas. Another favorite of the fashion-week crowd is Bar Basso, an old-school bar that claims to have invented the negroni sbagliato (“broken” negroni). According to local legend, a frazzled bartender accidentally substituted spumante for gin, creating the signature cocktail that is today served in goblets accompanied by enough chips and nuts to tide you over until dinner.

Venice The Venetian aperitivo of choice is an electric-orange Aperol spritz, and an especially scenic place to sip one is The Gritti Palace’s Bar Longhi. A favorite haunt of Hemingway, this timeless spot serves one of the best spritzes in town. The hotel’s Riva Lounge, for its part, serves spectacular sunset views across the Grand Canal from its outdoor terrace. A different sort of atmosphere draws nightly crowds to the city’s bacari, tiny bars serving Venetian tapas called cicchetti. Many are clustered in the narrow alleys behind the Rialto Market, including Cantina Do Mori, an atmospheric bacaro dating to the fifteenth century with dark-wood walls and copper pots hung from the rafters, and All’Arco, a bustling wine bar dishing out crostini topped with whipped cod, marinated sardines, and other Venetian specialties.

Florence Florentines aren’t as fanatic about aperitivo as their northern neighbors, but there are plenty of bars around the Tuscan capital that do it right. One of the most popular is Volume, a hip café with outdoor seating on Piazza Santo Spirito, where the prix fixe aperitivo special includes a drink and a platter of crudités, focaccia, dips, and chips. Cocktail connoisseurs should seek out La Ménagère, a café, flower shop, restaurant, and cocktail bar located within a sprawling nineteenth-century palazzo. Its refined cocktail menu often includes variations on the classic negroni, and you can order tapas to augment the complimentary bowls of olives and chips.

Rome Aperitivo takes many forms in the Italian capital, where Romans may spend the pre-dinner hours in a craft beer pub or a neighborhood enoteca. One spot that stands out for its superlative bar snacks is Il Goccetto, a friendly wine bar where the walls are lined with hundreds of bottles ready to be paired with taglieri – boards of salumi and cheese. A more unconventional option is Sacripante, an art gallery and bar located within a former convent. Deep inside the eclectic space, where modern art hangs on ancient stone walls, the cocktail bar resembles a Prohibition-era apothecary. Aperitivo might include a bitters-and-tonic cocktail paired with hand-sliced prosciutto, Sardinian cheeses, and marinated olives.



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