Bar, in Italian, is a multi-purpose word describing an establishment that opens early in the morning and serves perfect cappuccinos and croissants, transitions through a light lunch and whose doors are open well into the night, with wine and alcoholic beverages. Bars are everywhere you turn, on every street of every Italian city or village, ranging from humble and unadorned to flashy and trendy, all the way through history laden locales like Caffe’ Florian in Venice or Babington’s in Rome.
If gulping an espresso at a bar counter is a quintessential Italian rite of passage, so is the aperitivo. The aperitivo hour stretches from 6 pm to dinner time: friends gather after work in front of a glass of prosecco or a cocktail, before sliding into the rest of the evening, bypassing altogether the most melancholy hour. Yes, life in Italy is that well paced and that civilized.
When I moved to Milan, Giovanni was my first Cicero, showing me the ropes of life Milan-style. Born and bred in this austere city, Giovanni knows every restaurant, bar and nook and cranny of a city that can, at times, look impenetrable. His drink of choice is a Negroni Sbagliato that I first tasted at Bar Basso.
There is no better place to enjoy an aperitivo than Bar Basso, a city institution since 1947. Owned by the Stocchetto family since 1967, this bar was one of the first to popularize the spreads of appetizers customers could enjoy free of charge while sipping an aperitivo. Soon the offerings became more and more elaborate, putting to shame stale crisps and bowls of nuts: bite size pizzas, tiny onion focaccias, puff pastry with anchovy filling, crudites, roasted vegetables. A feast to be had for a price of a drink. Or two. And a much cheaper dinner option when running to a movie or for any impoverished student. This fare has become so popular that, nowadays, many bars charge a flat fee for the food.
If you happen to be in Milan, don’t pass the opportunity to stop by Bar Basso. You might be lucky enough to strike a conversation with Mirko Stocchetto, the retired father of current owner, Maurizio. Mirko, who tended the bar for many years, is responsible for Negroni Sbagliato (the literal translation is “Wrong Negroni). In his words, while making a Negroni for an American customer, he reached for the gin bottle that, in the nightly chaos, had been replaced with a prosecco one. Upon realizing his mistake, he offered the customer an immediate replacement but, as the story goes, the American wanted to try it and a cocktail was born – it went on to become so popular that no bartender anywhere will flinch if you order one.
But even if Milan is not in your immediate plans, here at campariandsofa, we are happy to introduce you to the original recipe, further proof that mistakes are not only learning moments but often hand us the opportunity to thrive.
Enjoy your celebrations!
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
- 1 ounce dry spumante
- Orange slice for garnish
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add Campari, vermouth and spumante, in that order. Gently stir and garnish with orange slice.
For more on Milan’s active aperitivo scene look here.