Aperitivo. You either love it or…don’t know what it is?
Aperitivo in Italy refers to a period in the evening, usually between 6pm - 8pm where people gather to drink cocktails, wine, or non-alcoholic drinks and eat some light snacks and food. You usually pay between 7-10euro for a drink and includes all the food they have set out in a buffet-like style. It’s a bit like happy hour, except the point isn’t to take advantage of the cheap drinks, but to stimulate your digestion before dinner. Ya know, science, heheh.
In my personal experience, if I actually want to be able to eat dinner afterwards, I just get a drink without going for the actual “aperitivo” price which includes the snackies. But. Also in my experience, if you plan on going out for aperitivo, especially with a group of students, people on a budget, or people with light appetites, that actually means you’ll linger so long you basically eat a meal of the hors d’oeuvres, or end up ordering a couple plates to share because everyone is too full to eat their own but felt bad that their party wiped clean the buffet bar. The larger your group I think the more likely the latter is to happen, but it’s not uncommon, and either way is highly enjoyable. Either way you look at it you’re with good food, drinks, and company.
A Quick History of the Aperitivo
The Italian word “Aperitivo” comes from the Latin “Aperitivus” which means “che apre” or “which tends to open the bowels.” (Do I sound like the dad on My Big Fat Greek Wedding?) Namely, a drink that is able to stimulate or “open” your digestion from the forthcoming onslaught of food. That thing we normally call dinner.
Apparently, in the 5th century the Greek physician Hippocrates discovered that a drink based on white wine, flowers of dittany, absinthe, and rue could help his patients who complained of loss of appetite. This concoction was then passed down through time until it reached the medicinal doctors of Medieval times. These doctors found that it wasn’t so much these particular ingredients that had this effect, but rather the bitterness of them. For this reason, the principal drinks served during aperitivo hour are based on bitter components.
The actual aperitivo as it is known in Italy today was born in Torino in the late 1700’s by one Antonio Benedetto Carpano, who invented vermouth. It was tasted by the then King of Italy, Vittorio Emanule II, who enjoyed this bitter drink so much he made it an official drink of court. It became a must drink for many famous people to come, such as Cavour and Garibaldi. Entering the 1800’s others eventually invented their own bitter drinks for the aperitivo to be drunk before a meal, with amaro, Campani, and Martini becoming particularly popular and are still the main stays of aperitivo today.
Which brings us to the question, what are the cocktails you can expect to find in Florence and around Italy?
Typical Cocktails in Italy
Spritz - prosecco, club soda, and either Aperol or Campari. Born in Italy, this is probably the most famous aperitivo here. There are two main versions, the Aperol Spritz, with Aperol, and the Campari Spritz, with Campari.
Negroni - gin, vermouth rosso, Campari. Invented in Florence in the 1920’s.
Negroni Sbagliato - vermouth rosso, Campari, prosecco. Created by accident in the 1960’s when a barman went to make a Negroni and instead of gin found in his hand prosecco…the rest is history.
Americano - Campari, sweet vermouth, club soda. Created in the latter half of the 19th century in either Torino or Milan.
Martini Dry - gin, dry vermouth. Another Italian cocktail born in the 19th century.
These are the typical Italian aperitivi, although be sure to check out the menus or ask wherever you go to see the creations and offerings of that particular place, including all the classics such as mojito, Moscow mule, gin and tonic, etc.
If for whatever reason you don’t want to partake in an alcoholic beverage, you can usually get a tonic with lemon or various other flavors of Schweppes they might have on hand, fruit juice, Crudino (a sweet and bitter non-alcoholic drink similar in taste to the alcoholic ones, I love it), soft drinks, or ask if the barman can make you a special non-alcoholic drink of his or your choice!
In no particular order
Via del Porcellana, 63r, close to the church of Santa Maria Novella.
A very cool little place specializing in cocktails, two floors and various nooks and crannies where you’re bound to find a cozy little corner to chat with friends.
Borgo S. Frediano, 20, south of the river not far from the church of Santo Spirito.
This place is also featured on my list for the best coffee in Florence (as is Caffetteria delle Oblate below), because it is such a great and versatile place. Great for meeting friends, studying, going for cocktails or coffee. Like ARTS INN, it has an up and downstairs and much more exciting seating options than your typical place.
Via Palazzuolo 80r, not far from the train station SMN.
This is the aperitivo for fish lovers. Most of their buffet has something to do with some kind of fish, dips, crostini, salads etc. I think my favorite part was the fried fish, so good! Nice atmosphere as well.
Caffetteria delle Oblate
Via dell’Oriuolo, 26, in the center not far from the Duomo.
An aperitivo on the third floor of an old convent. It has views of the Duomo without paying the higher prices of aperitivos usually on hotel rooftops. This place is very popular with students and at times it can be hard to find seating, but sitting on the steps or floor around the terrace is always an option if your bones can take it.
Borgo Santa Croce, 15r, two steps from the church of Santa Croce.
Very chic place with nice offerings in a relatively quiet street leading straight to Santa Croce. Limited outdoor seating, nice seating inside.
Via de’ bardi, 54, just a few steps from Ponte Vecchio.
Nice wines and buffet with a great view of Ponte Vecchio and the river! Prices aren’t bad either considering, I believe it’s 10euro for drink and buffet, which is pretty standard.
Via dei Benci, 30, close to the church of Santa Croce.
This for me is the quintessential aperitivo in Italy. Something about the type of place and their offerings make them appealing to many and accessible, but not super special. This was one of the more frequented places for meeting with friends when I first came to Florence. There are quite a few aperitivo places on the street, and it has quite the night life.
Two locations: Viale Antonio Gramsci 1/5r on the east edge of the city center, and Via San Gallo, 22r, close to San Marco.
An eclectic place with a decent offering of drinks and buffet food. Usually one of the first places suggested when trying to meet for aperitivo, as it’s known to most and has two convenient locations.
Seasonal summer pop-ups:
Because these are seasonal places they don’t usually have an actual address, but you can find it on Googlemaps by typing in the name. These places don’t include the buffet but you can choose to order some small plates or meals along with your drinks.
Lots of unique and hand crafted seating in a park along the river, outside the city center. They have some delicious cocktails, but their non-alcoholic options are limited.
Lungarno del Tempio
Food truck style food kiosks and bars appear for the summer in this park along the river just outside the crazy city center. Great to finally catch the breeze off the river while sipping on a cold drink after a hot day walking around the city. Note: Typing in Lungarno del Tempio will get you a pin on the map actually across the street, for more accuracy type in La Toraia Lungarno del Tempio which is one of the food kiosks.
Outdoor and great summery aperitivo on the river, just past Lungarno del Tempio. They can get the music going so best if you want more of club vibe than a quiet, chat with my friends type feel.
For a classy aperitivo experience try:
The Fusion Bar & Restaurant
Vicolo dell’Oro, 3, a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio.
A part of a hotel, this place is a local institution with competent barmen and original cocktails. The food is Asian fusion cuisine, so don’t forget the sushi! Higher end prices.
Harry’s Bar Firenze
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci, 22r, just a 6 minute walk from the American Consulate.
Elegant ambience in a historic Florentine locale with nice views and elevated prices.
Via delle Seggiole, 12r, between the Duomo and Santa Croce.
A historic restaurant with a notable bar and aperitivo smack dab in the center of the center. If you decide to stay and dine you’ll find well-thought out Italian dishes. You’ll want to dress up a bit for this place for sure.
If you have any questions or have suggestions to add to the list, leave a comment below! I always love hearing from you guys!