A View from the City – Milan

Matteo Zed, bar manager at Settembrini Cocktails in Rome, talks about his favourtie Italian city to drink in 

Tell us about the history of the Milan drinking scene.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this is a famous line from an ’80s commercial: ‘Milano da Bere’ (Drinking Milan). This definition perfectly describes a century of history in Milan’s drinking scene. Along with Torino, Milan has to be considered truly the city of the aperitif. Aperitif hour is the time when people love to taste a good cocktail paired with a little side dish. The location could be a luxury hotel bar or a street bar. In Milan it is very easy to start off with an aperitif and keep drinking until morning lights without realising the time.  

Are the Milanese into cocktails?

Milan could be considered the historic emblem of Italian mixology. Since the mid 1800s the venues contributing to Milan’s drinks history include the Zucca in Galleria before its name was Bar Camparino – a liberty-style venue in down town – Gin Rosa, which is famous for an aperitif cocktail that bears the same name, and Bar Jamaica which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. With the rise in the economy after World War II, Milan became the focus of wealth and business in Italy and from the early ’70s until today it is home to a second important golden era of Italian mixology.  

Who and what are pioneer bartenders and bars?

Pioneer bartenders in Milan were important for both local and national bartending. We should remember the foundation of the AIBES, the Italian bartenders and supporters association, on September 21, 1949. This gave a kickstart to quality Italian bartending and is internationally recognised, renowned and unites great bartenders. Among many we remember Angelo Zola, former AIBES and IBA president, and world cocktail promoter. He is a professional who made a huge contribution to raise the level of Italian bartending. Going on with contemporary mixology, the man who twisted the Milanese aperitif system was Vinicio Valdo – he was the first to offer a hot food buffet with his drink. The buffet was served in more open venues with classic American-style service and these types of serves were a great success from 1985 to the early 2000s. Nowadays in Milan mixology is found in smaller venues, less business oriented but more focused on quality. In these bars you can find the great service that was once exclusive to hotels. The cool places to go are the Rita, where you will find a good selection of creative cocktails sided with superb gourmet finger food served to you by the chef. In Nottingham Forest customers’ curiosity is satisfied by Dario Comini who creates drinks using futuristic techniques. He is a pioneer of a modern mixology that has now expanded throughout all Italy. 

Is there a growing cocktail community?

The Milanese scene is always evolving – new venues open every day and they are always different and original. The places you want to vist are Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, where high-cuisine plates from Masterchef Italy judge Carlo Cracco are served with gourmet drinks; the 1930, a speakeasy style bar where, from the door of a sandwich stand, you have access to an Italian living room of 80 years ago; and Ego, a cocktail bar where superior quality product is the foundation for the concoctions. Milan is still a business city – there are lots of Italian and foreign businessmen, from 30 to 50 years old, who would like a Dry Martini or a Negroni at lunchtime. Nightlife protagonists are medium-high social class students from around the world.