Sip an Aperol spritz in the summer cocktail’s Italian capital

Four Milan bars to enjoy the bubbly orange drink

A customer sips an Aperol spritz on the rooftop bar at the Excelsior Hotel Gallia in Milan. (Davide Bertuccio/for The Washington Post)
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MILAN — Ah, the magic of Northern Italy. Well-dressed crowds stroll down ancient streets bathed in the glow of the warm Italian sun. The heady combination of pizza, espresso and cologne wafts around you. And on nearly every corner here, a refreshing carbonated cocktail awaits.

When you think of Italy, landmarks and history may come to mind first. Aside from Rome’s Colosseum or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, there is a drinkable icon that has become just as much of a global name: the Aperol spritz.

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Made up of two parts of its namesake bitter, three parts Prosecco and a splash of seltzer, the cocktail is known for its approachability, refreshingly low alcohol-by-volume and an eye-catching color that resembles the blazing sun. In other words: It’s the perfect antidote to the record-breaking heat gripping Europe.

While the aperitif was invented in Padua, near Venice, in 1919 by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, the exact origin of the cocktail is unknown. Campari, the parent company for Aperol, says it began to make appearances in the 1950s.

The Aperol spritz may be best enjoyed in Milan, where it is ubiquitous from the bustling historic center to the Navigli neighborhood that overflows with bars and restaurants. Aside from being the heart of Italian fashion and finance, the metropolis is also the headquarters for Campari.

Recipe: Aperol spritz

“The Aperol spritz is the quintessential expression of Italian culture,” said Julka Villa, a spokeswoman for Campari Group. According to Villa, the cocktail is specifically engineered for “aperitivo culture,” a ritual in which Italians gather for drinks and appetizers before dinner. Hence why it was originally dubbed “Aperol.”

Villa said Aperol “was originally a local phenomenon” that Campari pushed to grow into a global favorite after acquiring the brand in 2003. According to the New York Times, those marketing efforts included installing Aperol spritz booths at summer events in the city and wrapping an ad around a bus that travels the Hamptons. According to Drinks International’s 2022 Brand Report, it’s now considered the sixth-most popular classic cocktail in the world (the Campari-fueled Negroni is No. 1).

From chic hotel bars to iconic restaurants — and even an officially licensed Aperol bar — here’s where to spend a summer day in Milan drinking like a true Italian.

Terrazza Aperol

Consider it a shrine to the spritz. In the shadow of the city’s crown jewel, the Duomo di Milano, the orange drink reigns supreme at Terrazza, one of the only officially licensed Aperol bars. Its outdoor seating splays out onto the cathedral’s bustling piazza. Its interior is accented by orange decor — what other color were you expecting?

Ordering a spritz here is the equivalent of getting a steak at Peter Luger in Brooklyn, only a lot more refreshing.

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According to Stefan Jensen, the Terrazza’s managing director at its home location in Venice, Aperol’s official bars serve more than 1,000 traditional spritzes per day: “Aperol, Prosecco DOC Frattina, which holds an important role in the recipe, and selz [soda water] that is produced directly in our traditional selz machine,” Jensen said.

At the Terrazza, bartenders have painstaking attention to detail on everything, including the amount of ice. “Obviously, what makes the difference is the art of our bartenders who achieve what we call the ‘perfect serve’ of our beloved cocktail.”

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121 Milan, Italy

Principe Bar at Hotel Principe di Savoia

Since the Hotel Principe di Savoia opened 95 years ago, queens, presidents and Milan’s fashion crowd have all kicked up their fancy feet. The property’s impressive namesake bar speaks to the high-end experience. A massive chandelier composed of 5,000 sparkling crystals looms over revelers who sip spritzes and nibble on pizzas topped with prawns and truffle.

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Bar manager Daniele Confalonieri has had a front-row seat to the drink’s rise. “I can recall when I was younger, much younger, the Aperol spritz was served at the bars of every town in Italy,” he said, but it was mainly ordered by Italians. Now he doles them out to the Principe’s deep-pocketed guests from around the globe.

Piazza della Repubblica, 17, 20124 Milan, Italy

Terrazza Gallia at the Excelsior Hotel Gallia

Remove yourself from the street-level crowds and take a peaceful perch seven stories up, where you can look over the city with a spritz in hand. At the Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Milan staple since 1932, tourists and locals are known to flock to Terrazza Gallia for aperitivo hour, which traditionally kicks off at 6 p.m. and lasts two hours. Views include the Pirelli Tower and the Milano Centrale train station.

While the Aperol spritz is no doubt a summertime favorite, they’re ordered all year long in Italy. “It’s our most popular drink, probably the best seller on our (entire) menu,” said Andrea Griggion, the assistant bar manager.

Piazza Duca d’Aosta, 9, 20124 Milan, Italy

A Santa Lucia

A Santa Lucia, a Milan favorite that opened in 1929, features walls completely covered with headshots of Italian icons, from Marcello Mastroianni to Frank Sinatra. But it’s under the restaurant’s ink and blue neon sign outside where one should pull up a seat, whether for aperitivo hour or a full-blown meal of Milanese and Neapolitan classics, including a perfectly-fried veal cutlet and stuffed peppers with olives and capers.

“Our brand essence, for me, is very real,” Villa said. “When I sip an Aperol spritz it’s typically with those I cherish most, enjoying each other’s company, a great scene and amazing food. Those are the moments that bring me great memories and great joy.”

Via S. Pietro All’Orto, 3, 20121 Milan, Italy

The Navigli neighborhood

Stretched out on both sides of a canal in the southwest of the city, this neighborhood is widely known for its happening nightlife and quirky shopping. The Mag Cafè concocts spritzes of all stripes for discerning drinkers. Rita is an esteemed, experimental cocktail bar. And for evenings that stretch late, the dim digs and cold drinks inside Ugo make for a perfect nightcap. Who says an Aperol spritz has to be ordered before sundown?

Mag Cafè, Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 43, 20143 Milan, Italy

Rita, Via Angelo Fumagalli, 1, 20143 Milan, Italy

Ugo, Via Corsico, 12, 20144 Milan, Italy

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