You may be walking around for hours in Italy and be lucky enough to stumble into a bar during the magical aperitivo time of the early evening. Aperitivo in Italy is a must-do event! Going to an aperitivo is one of our favorite things to do while we are visiting any city. Sure, you may encounter places that offer you chips and peanuts (gasp! it does exist!), but for the most part, you will be served a variety of finger foods. Some places even have a buffet of lovely snacks to nibble on with your appetite opening drinks.
The word "aperitivo" derives from the latin verb "aperire", which means: to open. And that is exactly what they would like you to do while you are snacking and drinking: open your appetite to enjoy a meal after you snack.
The aperitivo started in Torino (Turin), in Piemonte most likely since vermouth (a wine infused with herbs) was invented there in 1786. There are plenty of historic cafes to check out like Piazza San Carlo's Caffe San Carlo or Caffe Torino.
Here is a little history about the Negroni Sbagliato that I found in La Cucina Italiana magazine some years back:
“The house specialty at the legendary Bar Basso in Milan translates as “wrong” or “mistaken” Negroni—a fitting name for a cocktail born from a happy mistake. When making a Negroni, a misplaced bottle of spumante was grabbed by accident. An instant hit, the drink became the bar’s signature.”
Aperitivo time in Italy starts usually at 6PM to 8PM (the times can vary by region and start later and end later)and it can be compared to the American "Happy Hour". The difference is that there is usually a little bit more to nibble on.For the price of about 5-15 Euros, you get a drink and you get to enjoy the treats.Some may even use the aperitivo event as their meal. And there are some bartenders that will be not very happy that you are there just for the aperitivo, but you won't be alone!
Aperol Spritz on the left and a Campari Soda on the right.
Here are some aperitivo drinks to consider:
Aperol Spritz: Prosecco, Aperol and club soda.
Campari Soda: For the Campari lovers, this is just straight Campari with soda. They also sell the Campari soda in these cute cone shaped bottles (you can find them at most grocery stores).
Negroni: Made with gin, vermouth and Campari (can be very strong!)
Pirlo: White wine, Campari and club soda. You could even sub Aperol for the Campari.
Proscecco: Sparking wine (frizzantino in Northern Italy).Rossini: Crushed strawberries and Prosecco (or Champagne).
Spritz: Sparkling water and white wine
1.) The drinks you will find are alcolici (alcoholic)or analcolici (non-alcoholic). The "virgin" drinks could be a fruit juice cocktail or even Coke. 2) Do not expect very large plates at the bars that have aperitivo. The plates are tiny and you shouldn't stuff them to overflow. You are allowed to go back for seconds (I do observe Italians that go back for seconds). 3.) Some places will offer just chips and olives. Others will have something more, like focaccia, small portions of pizza, salumi and pasta salad. It will vary from place to place, region to region. 4.) Not sure where to go for a really great aperitivo? Check out aperitivo reviews online or do what we do and consult a local to get the best recommendations!!
5.) Remember, ice is not served in large quantities as it is in America. It may be the hottest summer day wherever you are in Italy, and you may get one or two ice-cubes in that lovely drink (yes, sometimes just one!!). The bartender may not be too enthusiastic to give you more cubes. The longer you are visiting, you will get used to not having a very cold drink. But when you do have something very cold on a particularly steamy day, it will be even more satisfactory!
Remember that the aperitivo isn't supposed to substitute cena (dinner). It is a great way to mingle with the locals. It's the perfect time for Italian people watching. You will most likely catch the locals heading out after work that are socializing and relaxing with their friends.
Where to go for an aperitivo?
In Firenze (Florence), here is a nice roundup to consider.
In Milano (Milan), the best place is Navigli. You can walk around and find the place that looks best for you. Here are some places to check out in Milano.
In Roma (Rome), great bars for a classic aperitivo.
In Torino (Turin), here are some unique places to visit.
In Venezia (Venice), here are some bars for that magical aperitivo time in the Dorsoduro area.
Been to an aperitivo in Italy? What was your favorite drink?