The best bars in Milan showcase the city's robust drinking culture, one that dates to the late 19th and early 20th century—around the time when Gaspare Campari began producing his eponymous bitters in a factory outside of the city and serving them as a pre-dinner drink meant to stimulate rather than spoil the appetite. Today, his blood red liquor is still ubiquitous, an integral ingredient to the ever-popular negroni, an aperitivo mainstay—something you’ll surely imbibe plenty of if you make a point to drink and eat like a local. But while Campari’s legend lives on, particularly in classic haunts like Bar Basso, Milan’s drinking scene has increased in scope.
The city has a booming craft cocktail culture, which can be experienced in watering holes like The Botanical Club and Rita & Cocktails, as well as in the city’s top restaurants. While not as developed, Milan’s craft beer scene caters to an ardent group of drinkers, who can often be found dissecting the latest brews at Bere Buona Birra. But in true Milanese fashion, sometimes going out for a drink is less about the alcohol and more about taking in the well-heeled crowd and beautiful buildings the bars are housed in, like at Ceresio 7. In those cases, and at any of the best bars in Milan, you can always fall back on a decent negroni.
Best bars in Milan
Although The Botanical Club in increasingly hip Isola is technically both a bar and restaurant, don’t bother with the back dining room; instead, hunker down at the retro green and metal bar in the front of the house, where you can spend a night in cocktail heaven. The cocktail menu changes every month, but be sure that whatever you try is made with one of their limited edition gins.
The negroni sbagliato (a “wrong” negroni where spumante instead of gin is mixed with Campari and vermouth) was first created at this classic Milanese cocktail bar and is still served today in an enormous glass. Located in Città Studi, an area buzzing with students, Bar Basso fills up during Salone del Mobile, the annual design week, when it becomes the after-party venue of choice.
Occupying a small, den-like space in Chinatown, Cantine Isola has an interior that’s more cozy than cramped, with a narrow bar along one wall and floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves packed tightly with wine bottles grouped according to region and country. Below most of the bottles are handwritten notes describing the contents’ origins and flavour profile.
More clubhouse than bar, this craft beer spot in Porta Romana is upfront about its priorities: its name translates as “Drink Good Beer.” The informal bar occupies a small storefront featuring playful art on the walls and littered with stools and a few nondescript wooden tables. But most people congregate around the bar’s six taps and the two coolers full of bottled craft Italian and European beer; crates on the opposite wall showcase bottles you can buy and take home.
This lofty venue, with its two pools, cigar room and sleek interiors, is owned by Canadian fashion designers Dean and Dan Caten, whose label Dsquared2 is housed next door. Come at sunset, so that you can see Milan’s relatively new skyline awash in pink light. The bar doesn’t accept reservations, so come early to grab a poolside couch for aperitivo.
A reliable spot for inventive cocktails, Rita & Cocktails stands out in the Navigli: the canal area is teeming with mediocre establishments, and this contemporary bar is like a port in the storm. The specialty here is fresh, quality ingredients and clever flavour combinations. Outside of the glass-encased patio, the main focal point is a bespoke wooden bar that practically fills the room.
This neighbourhood favourite in Porta Romana, run by brothers Luca, Fabio and Massimo Crinò, is first and foremost a pastry shop. But don’t let the display cases full of mouth-watering sweets deter you—Massimo 1970 is equally renowned for its inventive cocktails, many of which are Luca’s own creations. Not only does Luca concoct the recipes, he also creates his own vermouth and Campari-style liquor.
Housed in an old foundry with soaring ceilings and a sprawling patio, Fonderie Milanese can be relied on for solid cocktails and an aperitivo buffet that prioritises quality over quantity. Close to Bocconi University, this hidden spot at the end of a gravel road attracts a younger crowd, although it’s hopping with people of all ages during aperitivo hours.
During the day, Otto’s distressed wooden tables are covered in Apple laptops belonging to freelancers. But come aperitivo time, the laptops are replaced with glasses of wine and aperitifs. Get here early to snag a seat, but don’t be concerned if you’re left to twiddle your thumbs—all ordering takes place at the bar and there’s no table service for drinks.
Buttressed by the walls of San Marco Basilica, this historic wine cellar in Brera is a place where people go to see and be seen. N’Ombra de Vin was opened by Giacomo Cora, who transformed what used to be the refectory of the Friars of the Agostine order in the 16th century into one of Milan’s best wine shops. Today the grand cellar is run by Giacomo’s son, Cristiano.