Aperitivo is, for all intents and purposes, Italy’s take on happy hour. But it is also a state of mind—a sort of devil-may-care moment in the day when the Italian Dream seems just a little more tangible.
In Milan, where Campari may as well be a patron saint, aperitivo—essentially the act of taking a drink and a small bite to open one’s stomach before a meal—is the time of day when you go to pay your respects, either by way of the spritz, the Americano, the Negroni or its less heralded, but no less addictive (and significantly less dangerous) little sister: the Negroni Sbagliato. The latter—a mashup of the Negroni and the Spritz—is, as far as we’re concerned, due for its day in the sun.
The legendary Bar Basso in Milan claims provenance of this buoyant riff on the original, whose sbagliato addendum means “mistaken” or “incorrect” in Italian—a nod to the drink’s supposedly accidental replacement of prosecco for gin. All mirrors and gold, emerald velvet and vintage glassware, at Bar Basso marketing men in suits rub elbows with the fashion world, old men, tourists and the occasional sophisticated college student. Starting around 6:30 p.m., the bar swells to two- or three-deep, a cabinet full of crostini and tramezzini discharged to the tables and bar tops with rapid fire while Negronis and their Sbagliato siblings are sipped from hand-blown goblets the size of pineapples.
A goblet of Negroni at Milan’s Bar Basso
In a city where the classic ritual of aperitivo has been unraveled and then raveled back again in every which way, Bar Basso is where you go to observe the religious rite in its untarnished form. Here there is no apericena buffet—the much-maligned mutation of aperitivo into cena, or dinner, featuring mostly cheap, low-quality food—no overwrought mojitos, no techno music. Here is a place that presents its two liquid pillars as if lighting a devotional candle in their honor. And it’s here that we fully realized the great pleasures of the bubbly Negroni, an effervescent mix of Italy’s boozy trinity: vermouth, bitter and wine.
While few can deny the perfect bittersweet gravity of the Negroni, as we kick off the third annual Negroni Week, let’s take a moment to light that candle for the other Negroni—then throw a couple back in abandon.
If you’re in New York City you can do it with us. The ladies of PUNCH will be behind the bar slinging classic and bubbly Negronis at Pouring Ribbons on Tuesday, June 2nd, from 6 to 8 p.m. Bring your buds, and your bitter A-game.