“The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter...”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
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An #aperitivo is the Italian equivalent of #happyhour, but so much classier. Defined as a beverage (usually alcoholic) that is consumed socially and prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite, it certainly achieves this goal!
My aperitivo experience
Bria and I officially had our first encounter with the aperitivo during our recent visit to #Pisa. Visiting Mattia, an old friend from my semester abroad in high school, we had the chance to explore the historic city and all of its wonders. Il Torre. Piazza dei Miracoli. Il Cattedrale. Il Monumento di Camposanto. We even had a chance to walk along the white rock beaches surrounding Pisa’s marina!
After a long day of exploring the sights, sharing gourmet Panini, and tasting gelato, we were a bit thirsty… if you know what I mean ;) Being the awesome tour guide and friend that he is, Mattia took us to a small but trendy hideaway tucked away behind the streets of the main piazza. Cue, our aperitivo experience.
Black and white images of the New York City skyline made Skyline American Bar feel like a genuine escape. Despite its playful Western décor, everything else about this bar was 100% Italian from the music to the cocktails and snacks.
After Mattia explained how the buffet-style aperitivo worked, we consulted the bar menu where, by the way, all cocktails offered were €6! Weighing the countless options, Bria eventually ordered an Aperol Spritz while Mattia and I opted for a Negroni. Boy oh boy, two sips of Negroni and I was feeling fine! Thankfully, the aperitivo bites of pizzas and polenta squares helped me to nurse my drink while regaining my sobriety.
Note to self: Negroni is not for the lightweight!
After some great conversation and laughter shared over drinks, it was finally time for us to head back to Florence. Not a bad day, considering we spent a mere €20 for our Pisa adventure, complete with experiencing the flavours, sights, and sounds of the city.
The one thing that I did keep thinking on our train ride home, however, was how the aperitivo came to be, prompting me to complete some #foodieresearch!
A Northern Legacy
Many consider northern Italy (Milano and Veneto) to be the birthplace of the aperitivo. Afterall, it is where the Martini and Campari families first grew their liqueur products into successful businesses during the 1800s. With their vermouth and bitters, respectively, signature cocktails soon rose to fame.
On the contrary, others make claims that aperitivo itself (snack and cocktail) was thanks to a vermouth inventor by the name of Campano. Unable to pair the liqueur with traditional dinner fare like pasta, he created the concept of a pre-dinner amuse bouche. Savvy business move, eh?
What to Expect
Though there is no specific time to enjoy an aperitivo, generally people will find themselves at a bar between 7pm and 9pm.
Since aperitivo is a pre-dinner ritual, it's best enjoyed moderately so as not to spoil one’s dinner. (Remember that Italians don’t eat until at least 8 pm!) Likewise, any snack that accompanies an aperitivo will be enjoyed on a small plate meant for grazing while sipping a cocktail.
Additionally, one of the most important – and beautiful – aspects of the aperitivo is its sociability. There is a cool and effortless decadence that surrounds this pre-dinner excursion. Like all things Italian, social activity is based around food and drink. It’s simply the Italian way.
Aperitivo vs. Apericena
Simple exploration around town will teach you that there are two ways of partaking in pre-dinner drinks, offered through the classic aperitivo and the pricer, decadent apericena.
Aperitivo usually consists of a drink and some light snacks like nuts, cheese, or olives. It is more cost effective than an apericena, which is usually heartier. Moreover, an apericena may consist of a buffet or select menu items that are simply more substantial. Think pasta, focaccia, and salads.
Though it may be tempting to make the most out of this early evening bite, aperitivo is done best in moderation. Apericena can be enticing especially to those on a budget, but it ultimately defeats the idea of an aperitivo.
An unwritten rule of aperitivo is to limit one plate of food per drink, anything more will appear touristy, tacky, and distasteful.
Aperitivo drinks are divided into alcolici (alcoholic) and analcolici (non-alcoholic). Analcolici can consist of fruit juices, soft drinks, or even a bitter like Chinotto or Sanbitter.
As for alcoholic beverages, wines, either white or bubbly, are typical. However, there are several cocktails that use traditional bitters like Aperol or Campari. The trinity of classic cocktails being: the Spritz (Prosecco + Aperol +Soda Water), Negroni (Gin + Vermouth + Campari), and the Americano (Campari + Vermouth + Soda Water).
Where to Go
Honestly, there are hundreds of places in major cities. Just follow the crowds or, better yet, your nose and will come across an aperitivo bar! If you are at a loss, I recommend the following places.
Firenze: Circolo A.S. Aurora
Pisa: Skyline American Bar
Where is your favourite aperitivo place? Let me know in the comments below!