While Italy isn’t exactly known as being a cocktail bar hotbed, there are a bevy of incredible drinks that were invented there. From the spritz and the famous Negroni to the Bellini and the Americano, there are plenty of original libations to try that have nothing to do with Italy’s premier wine scene.
But hidden in plain sight, among the coffee shops and wine bars, there actually is a bubbling cocktail culture that has a very long and distinguished history with an even brighter future. Here are some of Italy’s best, oldest, and coolest cocktail bars across the country.
Drink like a true Italian and ask for a Martini & Rossi Fiero & Tonic with orange zest for a drink that has an unparalleled boldness.
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Harry’s Bar in Italy
CREDIT: COURTESY OF HARRY’S BAR
Known for the invention of the Bellini cocktail by the estimable Giuseppe Cipriani (yes, the Cipriani), Harry’s Bar has been serving cocktails to a sophisticated clientele since 1931. With a corner location overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, Harry’s has attracted luminaries that include none other than Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, and many, many more.
Opened in 1947, Bar Basso is a Milano staple that is credited with the invention of the Negroni Sbagliato (known as the mistaken Negroni). This version is made with prosecco instead of gin and was allegedly discovered by a too-busy bartender grabbing the wrong bottle. Basso also claims to be the first bar in the city to serve aperitifs to wild-eyed customers. Guests today will find a menu with over 500 drinks to keep their cocktail palates satiated.
Although it’s primarily known as a wine bar, Al Brandisi is in fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest wine bar on Earth that dates back to the renaissance. The bar is located in Ferrara, north of Bologna, and was frequented by famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus as well as Italian painter Titian. Pope John Paul II even stopped by to recognize the 500th anniversary of Copernicus’s birth.
Drink Kong bar interior in Italy
CREDIT: ALBERTO BLASETTI/COURTESY OF DRINK KONG
Shhh, this Milan cocktail bar is a secret. It’s hard to get into. It’s hard to find. And they like it that way. And while this hidden speakeasy should make you think of the prohibition era, the drinks feel like they’re from the future. Wondrous mixology concoctions like their Llorona blends Casamigos tequila with vodka, vanilla, lemon and lime yogurt, and salted chocolate air. Or take a chance on their version of an Old Fashioned that brings together Michter’s bourbon, pulled pork spirits, smoked gum syrup, and chimichurri crusta.
Ranked No. 45 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, Drink Kong in Rome is a neon-filled wonderland of cocktails that equally evokes the anime-laden neighborhood of Akihabara in Japan and the dizzying quality of an ’80s sci-fi flick. The drink menu is described as being based on “flavor and focused precisely on it, to enhance the complex scheme of colors hidden in their DNA.” Regardless of what that means, the incomprehensible menu includes a map that breaks drinks into categories of Newmami (the fifth flavor), Holus (all that is green), Kudamono (everything fruit), Herbs & Herbs (botanical and bitter), and Sukoshi (little to no alcohol).
With only three stools and 43 square feet, BackDoor43 is one of the smallest bars in the world. Hidden away in Milan, this tiny spot is known for rare whiskeys, creative cocktails, and lots of secrecy. A Guy Fawkes-masked bartender hides away beneath a slotted window and getting in usually requires a secret password.
Classic and Cool
Bar Quanto Basta
Deep into the boot of Italy in the town of Lecce is Bar Quanto Basta, an ode to cocktails that can be found amid the beige buildings and brick-lined streets of the historic center. Inside, brick-vaulted archways tower over the bar in a cathedral-like setting with master barkeeps pouring mixed drinks. Understated with no flash, this bar is simply cool because it’s not trying to be anything else.
Tucked away on a narrow side street in Florence, Il Locale sits in an 800-year-old Renaissance palace and instantly makes you feel like you’re in the right place at the right time. Inside the multi-tiered space is no shortage of hanging greenery, hidden nooks, good-looking crowds, and stunning cocktails that look as gorgeous as they taste. The mixologists behind the bar concoct drinks as if it were an apothecary with artisan serving bowls and unique glassware.
There isn’t enough hyperbole to do Positano justice, and Franco’s Bar at Le Sirenuse falls under the same umbrella. With spectacular views of the glistening Amalfi Coast, you might think the drinks here would be an afterthought. You’d be wrong. Classic cocktails abound with innovative concoctions like the Back to Black with rum, passion fruit lime, and homemade orgeat pepper syrup; or the La Vie En Rose with pisco, rose lycée syrup, absinth, lemon, and soda. But really, that view…
Freni e Frizioni
If you’re unfamiliar with aperitivo, it’s basically Italy’s version of happy hour. A typical aperitivo starts in the early evening and is meant to stimulate one’s appetite with drinks and salty snacks like olives, nuts, and cheeses before a late dinner. One of the best versions of this tradition is in Rome at Freni e Frizioni. The streetside indoor/outdoor bar in Rome’s cobblestoned Trastevere neighborhood hugs the Tiber river and brings out Rome’s cool kids for clever cocktails, a lively atmosphere, and a complimentary buffet spread that is easy to ruin dinner with.