There are countless watering holes in Milan, from trendy canal-side aperitivo spots to dive bars and English pubs. Although Milan is renowned for glitzy fashion shows and stylish restaurants, its bar scene is where the city really comes alive. Here, Culture Trip reveals the 12 best.
Bar-hopping is something of a cultural phenomenon in Milan. From picture-perfect canal-side locales to grungy hideaways, there’s a bar for every occasion.
Bar, Cafe, Cocktail Bar, Italian, $$$
Located in the heart of the ultra-trendy Navigli district, Mag Café is something of an institution among Milan’s residents. The walls inside are lined with quirky collectables and memorabilia, while the seats outside are perfect for taking in the fading twilight over the canal. Be sure to get here well before sunset to secure yourself a seat and take advantage of Mag’s aperitivo selection. Like most other bars in the area, order your first drink and you’ll get access to the full buffet selection. At Mag Café, this tends to include cold cuts, breads and cheeses. Pair with a negroni, and get ready to make a night of it.
The legendary Bar Basso, Milan | Courtesy Bar Basso Photo: Andrea Zani
Anyone familiar with Milan is likely to have had a negroni sbagliato (‘wrong negroni’, made with prosecco instead of gin) or two at Bar Basso. The bar has been around since the ’40s and is as popular among Milan’s young, hip residents as its old-timers. The drink list is dizzyingly long, while the atmosphere is warm and laid-back. This place packs out every night, especially on the weekends; you’ll enjoy the lively crowd as much as the cocktails.
For something a little different during your visit to Milan, you can’t go wrong with Monkey Cocktail Bar. This centrally located bar is becoming a hot favourite among visitors to the city, thanks to its eccentric decor (including the insane monkey mural overlooking the bar) and innovative cocktails. You won’t find a drink menu here – so arrive thirsty and open-minded. Tell the bartenders what you’re in the mood for, and they’ll concoct a one-of-a-kind tipple just for you. Monkey’s range of fresh fruits changes daily, and its bartenders are some of the best in Milan.
For those special occasions, or if you’re simply looking for a classy night out, head to The Doping Club. Located in The Yard hotel in the Navigli district, this high-end bar and restaurant has a reputation for excellent service and first-class Italian cuisine (its pizzas are legendary). If you’re here for a cocktail, however, you might spend a little more time than usual perusing the menu – it’s rather long! Not sure? Ask the staff for their suggestion, and they’ll be only too happy to make a recommendation. Get comfortable in the plush armchairs, or at one of the cosy leather bar-side seats, and don’t be surprised if your bar-hopping night ends here – it’s that hard to leave.
This intimate space plays host to a range of knick-knacks from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, giving the place a well-travelled feel. The moment you enter, you’ll feel as though you’ve been whisked into some Robinson Crusoe storybook. Once you’ve found a seat within the dimly lit venue (it doesn’t take reservations, so you might find yourself waiting a little while), order one of the signature cocktails and discover why this place is so popular. Presentation is key at Nottingham Forest, and many of its drinks are served with dry ice in interesting little bottles or out of pipettes. The idea is to spend as much time admiring the artistic flair of the bar staff’s creations as you do drinking them.
Another of Navigli’s greatest attractions, UGO Bar is a must-see if you’re headed to this district. The dark, romantic atmosphere of the circus-inspired bar makes it an Instagram-worthy destination, as do the menus. The Circus Menu beckons with a mysterious promise of adventure, “Where everything is possible, where time stands still, and your imagination flows…” Try the Cannon Lady, a peculiar but tasty concoction of condensed milk, lime, popcorn, paprika and arrack – or the whisky, ginger and pear-infused Lion Tamer.
Restaurant, Wine Bar, Wine Seller, Bar, European, Italian, $$$
Making your way through the hallowed halls of N’Ombra de Vin, you’ll feel more like you’ve entered a museum than one of the city’s finest bars. Set within a 16th-century friar’s refectory, the bar-wine cellar boasts vaulted ceilings and ancient stone walls and is dramatically lit with candles throughout. The Gothic feel of the place is as perfect an atmosphere for an intimate dinner as it is for the late-night dance parties and regular live-music events hosted here. If you’ve had enough cocktails to last you a lifetime already, then sample some of the wines from the extensive collection. Better yet, stay for some tapas and have them expertly matched with a glass of vino.
Moscow Mule Milan is outside the city centre in the Lambrate neighbourhood, just a short walk from the metro station and the Parco Lambro gardens. Serving a killer moscow mule as well as a host of other fantastic cocktails, this bar is renowned for the strength of its drinks and reasonable prices (by Milanese standards). It’s popular among students, and the small space, which fits only 20-30 people, can get crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, so you might want to book a table in advance. The aperitivo is another reason to head to this venue – for the price of a single drink you can fill up on a range of snacks, including cold meats, bruschetta, salads and corn chips with salsa.
The philosophy behind Dry incorporates both the anti-establishment culture of the Prohibition era as well as the idea of bare-bones, fundamental ingredients, which are consciously chosen. The only thing more popular than the cocktails at Dry are the pizzas. Several classic Italian-style pizzas are on offer – which means only a handful of high-quality, tasty toppings and no fuss. The smoked provola cheese featured in some of the favourites is to die for and goes perfectly with one a signature cocktail. Try a Dry Martini 2.0 for an imaginative twist on a classic martini, complete with red onion powder and olive powder.
Come for a drink and stay for the aperitivo in this snug and inviting bar. Alongside the canal, it’s the perfect place for a sunset cocktail and a snack. The buffet selection here is widely considered to be one of the best in the area and features a range of pastas, salads and cold cuts. The bar’s leather couches make it easy to nestle in for the night, and the bartenders serve up an array of mouthwatering cocktails. Opt for a traditional negroni or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, plump for a seasonal creation.
BackDoor 43 is allegedly the smallest bar in the world
BackDoor 43 is one for your bar-hopping bucket list. The decor is reminiscent of a Diagon Alley shopping trip, although Hagrid would have zero chance of squeezing his full bulk into this venue. Legend has it that this charming little spot is the smallest bar in the world, and seeing as it welcomes a maximum of four patrons at a time, it’s not difficult to believe. Make your booking at least a couple of weeks in advance and then enjoy 90 minutes of undivided attention from the bartender. With a huge range of whiskies and other spirit staples, you’ll have your cocktails created on the spot, to your liking, from the genius behind the bar.
B:Free is a small, modern Milanese bar born of the desire to give its patrons the freedom to experience new things, experiment with tastes and be free to express themselves. Taking pride in its high-quality ingredients and hospitable staff, the B:Free team want you to feel at home. The bar serves a selection of old classics, modern twists and strange libations sure to excite the palate, including smoked and ‘molecular’ cocktails. B:Free is a spot to relax, unwind and get a little inspired.