Fusion is part of Florence's burgeoning cocktail scene | Courtesy of Fusion
In Tuscany, world-famous for its stellar red wines, no visit is complete without a visit to your local enoteca (a type of wine shop) for a glass of Chianti. But in the heart of the region, in fashion-forward Florence, there is a growing cocktail scene, from swanky vintage bars to artisan outposts, to classic gilded cafés. Here, highly skilled mixologists take serious pride in crafting the perfect cocktail. Proud inventors of the Negroni, lovers of aperitivo and the nightcap, Florentines will give you a newfound appreciation for savouring the good life in a glass.
Found in Piazza Repubblica, the city’s central hub, Gilli is a Florentine classic – and like all true classics, it seems to only get better with time. The crystal chandeliers, Art Nouveau interiors, gilded bar and immaculately dressed wait staff make a trip to the oldest café in Florence an absolute must. The cocktails here are top-notch, always created in perfect proportions and served with style. Try Florence’s signature cocktail, the Negroni, here – allegedly invented in the city in 1919, no one makes a Negroni like legendary head barman and drink historian Luca Picchi – he literally wrote the book on it. So, settle in to the luxe outdoor lounge, sip slowly and enjoy one of Italy’s greatest pastimes: people-watching in the piazza. Fun fact: the iconic 1951 photo by Ruth Orkin, An American Girl in Italy, was shot in front of Gilli.
Fusion is the place for adventurous cocktails | Courtesy of Fusion
Set in a quiet piazza just steps from the Uffizi, Fusion is that rare gem of gems – a hotel cocktail bar so good it draws a regular crowd of city residents. Attached to the chic Gallery Hotel Art, here you can sip unique, precisely prepared cocktails in a relaxed outdoor lounge. Renowned for specialty creations, this is the place to go if you’re an adventurous cocktail enthusiast. Here, you’ll find legendary drinks culled from the halls of international cocktail history done right as well as inspired new exotic creations like the Latin-influenced, tequila-based Bebida de la Huerta (icy-cool with a spicy chilli kick) and the chamomile-infused pisco, El Florero de Nazca, (delightfully fizzy and topped with a flower for perfect Florentine frivolity.)
The open, airy greenhouse vibe and the colourful bouquets of the pop-up florist makes this bistro bar a perennial favourite in the busy San Lorenzo neighbourhood. Here, you’ll find city residents, students and visitors clustered at small tables on the covered indoor/outdoor patio, chatting and slowly sipping a Spritz at aperitivo hour. If you get hungry, their snack menu is filled with light bites such as salads, sandwiches and tacos. Elegant and vibrant, it’s a great spot for snacks throughout the day and drinks into the late evening. Upstairs buzzes with tables full of stylish Florentines, while downstairs you can often catch a live jazz band or DJ set.
One of the city’s classiest grand-dame cafés, it’s well worth stopping into Rivoire for an elegant, expertly crafted pre-dinner Negroni. The setting is unbeatable, and uniquely Florentine; it’s situated in the heart of Piazza della Signoria, with intimate outdoor tables facing Palazzo Vecchio. Their classic cocktails are some of the best in town. Before taking the helm at Gilli, Luca Picchi was head barman here; it was within this bar that he perfected the fine, delicately balanced art of the Negroni. Today, his protégés still do Florence’s signature cocktail proud. The sweet-tooths will be pleased to discover that the bar is also a renowned chocolatier – make sure to sample a few of Rivoire’s homemade treats. Although Italy may be a stereotypically summer destination, it’s worth heading here in winter for one of the decadent French-style hot chocolates.
If you’re looking for a relaxed and easygoing neighbourhood bar, Enoteca Sant’Ambrogio is it. When the weather is warm, it takes over the piazza with clusters of tables and chairs – becoming the neighbourhood’s central meeting place. Here, you’ll find local shopkeepers and neighbours gathering for after-work drinks, smoking and chatting. It’s the sort of neighbourhood place where everyone seems to know everyone – and every 10 minutes or so a passer-by stops at a table of friends they’ve spotted to say hello. This friendly and unpretentious venue is excellent for meeting up with friends and people-watching until the late evening hours. It also has an excellent wine list, and you can find many options available by the glass.
A few steps from Santo Spirito in the hidden, picturesque Piazza della Passera, Bulli serves elegant cocktails in crystal goblets – and the star of the show is the Spritz. Seven different creative and colourful varieties include classics such as the Campari or Aperol Spritz and more unusual concoctions with names such as the Mirto and the Hugo. The vibe is casual, sociable and relaxed. Instead of the standard cocktail bowl of potato chips or peanuts sometimes found at Italian aperitivo, you can choose from an array of tasty tapas-style mini crostini topped with everything from artisan cheeses with veggies to spicy salami. Take an evening stroll afterward into nearby Santo Spirito to explore.
Locale is the spot for those seeking an intoxicating combination of palatial Renaissance luxury and artfully crafted New York City-style cocktails. Choose from their artisanal cocktail menu and clink glasses beneath the vaulted arches of this lush, ivy-covered glass-topped atrium bar. Set in the restored 1500s palazzo of Bartolomeo Concini, influential advisor to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Locale lets you play modern-day noble for a night. The opulent setting and creative cocktails here draw in connoisseurs, while the friendly service keeps them coming back. This is the kind of place where dry ice drinks smoulder like mini volcanoes; when in the company of the ghost of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, drink as lavishly as a Medici.
Florence’s enoteche are truly in a class of their own. These historic haunts, born from old-fashioned wine shops-turned-tasting rooms, specialise in something Italy does artfully, effortlessly and perfectly: wine. The rustic simplicity of the enoteca is an integral part of Italian life and a must-visit for any wine lover. As the capital of Tuscany, Florence has a handful of wonderful spots, but Volpi tops Culture Trip’s list for wine lovers. Nestled in a hidden piazza just steps from Palazzo Pitti, here the expertly curated, ever-changing menu goes well beyond Chianti. On any given day, you might find wines from the Italian Alps, southern France and, of course, local Tuscan gems. A longtime Florentine favorite, this intimate bodega is always packed. It’s the perfect place to sample wines by the glass paired with artisan meats and cheeses; you’ll want to stay for hours, chatting about wine and trying absolutely everything on the menu.
This legendary secret speakeasy makes every Florentine’s best of the best list. It’s the platonic ideal of a speakeasy; hidden behind an unmarked door, it’s filled with the glamour of the prohibition era, all secrecy and low lighting, red velvet decor and utterly superb cocktails. Finding your way into the candlelit world of Rasputin may not be easy (although it is certainly doable – you just need to call ahead to book and get “directions”), but it’s the key to its charm. In a fashion-focused city filled with vintage shops, it’s also fun to dress the part. If you’re a cocktail purist and prefer to skip the fruity stuff, this is the place to savour a perfectly crafted martini or Manhattan or try elegant, inspired house signatures like the Delicious Little Devil or Il Conte Bianco.
One of the best things about Florence, hands down, is the spectacular historic skyline – and there’s no better way to enjoy it than on a rooftop terrace with a cocktail in hand. If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony in your hotel room or rented apartment – take full advantage. A small handful of classy hotels here offer even non-guests the chance to enjoy their panoramic terrace bars, though reservations are often required. To watch sunsets transforming into starry night skies, visit Divina Terrazza (literally translating to the divine terrace) at the Grand Hotel Cavour. The rooftop bar here is open to visitors year-round in the evenings and offers excellent cocktails and breathtaking views of the Duomo.