Top 20 Cocktail Bars in Milano / by shane eaton

Compiling a list of the Top 20 cocktail bars in Milano is not easy. First, if you wanna do it right, you have to visit every single cocktail bar in Milano. Of course this is impossible even for me, so I rely on the sage advice of my trusted cocktail lover friends to come up with a short list of 50 or so reasonable bars in the city. Then of course there’s the cost, not only to my poor wallet, but to my liver!

After my first ranking released in October, people suggested I reformat the list to consider one important detail - the price!

As such, I’ve come up with two lists - the 10 best “High end” bars (cocktails €12 or more) and the 10 best “Everyday” bars (drinks €11 or less). Of course it was hard to come up with a top 10 given the sheer quantity of great bars in the city. Honorable mentions go to Officina, Dhole, Nottingham Forest, Raboucer, Botanical 3 and Drinc. These bars could well appear on the next iteration of this article.

I also include the criteria I use to judge a bar, namely:

  • location (neighborhood and ease of access with public transit)

  • atmosphere (decor and mood)

  • service (friendliness and efficiency)

  • team (the depth, skill and likability of the bartenders)

  • presentation (Cocktail Art worthy cocktails?)

  • taste (cocktail taste according to my palate)

  • ice (clear, pretty ice of different eye pleasing shapes)

Top 10 High End bars

1. 1930

location 8.5/10, atmosphere 10/10, service 9/10, team 9/10, presentation 10/10, taste 9/10, ice 10/10 - overall 9.4/10 (€12-€15)

1930 is no longer a secret but that doesn't hold it back from being the best bar in East Milano. The antique furniture, romantic lighting, eye-catching bar counter and friendly and talented barmen continue to push this bar forward, with 1930 now receiving international acclaim with guest bars shifts at 28 HongKong St, El Copitas and El Paradiso. To gain access to this secret bar, you must first get to know the guys at MAG, the sister bar of 1930. If you're lucky, you'll be given a one time invitation. If you're even more lucky you'll eventually receive the membership card, an honor bestowed upon regular visitors who demonstrate a true passion for the bar, cocktails and life in general. With owner and creative leader Marco Russo, bar manager Benjamin “Ullalla” Cavagna and senior bartender Gabriele Calise, 1930 is now a well-oiled machine, recently making 80th spot on the coveted World’s 50 Best Bars list.

Beyond the mesmerizing ambiance at the 1930 secret cocktail bar, the cocktails are superb, with the current list being the best since the speakeasy's conception 4 years ago. My favorite is The Mountain with Farmily 2016, Honey Alpe, Alpine Freshness, Beeswax, Peychaud’s bitters and Absinthe. The best signature is the Lighthouse of Scoltand (Faro di Scozia) which has Laphroaig quarter cask, sea water, distilled earth, stout and vanilla, milk, aromatic bitters. It is the closest cocktail to liquid gold. 

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2. OCTAVIUS

location 9.5/10, atmosphere 10/10, service 9.5/10, team 9/10, presentation 8.5/10, taste 9/10, ice 9.5/10 - overall 9.3/10 (€15-€18)

Octavius is the slick cocktail bar next to the The Stage Restaurant in Piazza Gae Aulenti. The Stage has a beautiful interior design, which mimics the interior of a luxury yacht. Architects Roman and Williams clad the walls in tambour wood panels which together with the mahogany ceiling make you feel like you're in the belly of a boat. The adjacent Octavius bar can be spotted through the porthole windows, with similar wood surroundings and warm color tones and lighting. The beautiful stainless and brass bar counter is the highlight, where Francesco Cione mans the crew of talented young bartenders like Sossio Del Prete, Gabriele Tammaro and Nicolò Scelsi.

Although you pay more than MaG cafe or Carlo e Camilla for a drink, the sexy environment and solid drinks are worth the price of admission. Octavius is my top choice for Northern Milano!

Sossio making a Michter’s Old Fashioned; These are a few of my favorite things.

Sossio making a Michter’s Old Fashioned; These are a few of my favorite things.

3. MANDARIN ORIENTAL

location 8/10, atmosphere 9.5/10, service 10/10, team 10/10, presentation 9/10, taste 9/10, ice 9/10 - overall 9.2/10 (€20)

The Mandarin Oriental Milano is one of the sexiest hotel bars in the world and offers one of the best cocktail lists around, thanks to bar manager Teo Rizzolo (ex-Nottingham Forest and 1930).

For more delicate palates, try the refreshing Mo-Re Pear. Featuring Absolut Elyx vodka, grapefruit juice, pear syrup and raspberry foam and served in a spectacular drinking receptacle! Teo has many of his glasses custom made, adding to the unique experience at the Mandarin Oriental.

One of the best Martinis in the city is the Laverstocke Mill Martini, presented in a beautiful custom designed glass with Star of Bombay gin, Noilly Prat vermouth infused with Bergamot and tonka bean.

The beautiful bar counter at the Mandarin Oriental

The beautiful bar counter at the Mandarin Oriental

4. THE YARD

location 9/10, atmosphere 10/10, service 9/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 9/10, ice 7/10 - overall 8.6/10 (€12-€20)

Arguably the most beautiful bar in Milano, the Yard Hotel features peculiar but eye pleasing decorations and furniture. Taking over as Food and Bar manager is the best host in Italy, Mr. Francesco Galdi. With Tucci is the senior bartender, also managing duties at the new secretive pizza and dumpling speakeasy. Under Galdi’s helm, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Yard, including the speakeasy and the adjacent Dirty Gym pizzeria.

Gioia behind the stick; Mister Shane cocktail

Gioia behind the stick; Mister Shane cocktail

5. BACKDOOR 43

location 9/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 9/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 9/10, ice 7/10 - overall 8.4/10 (€12)

The flagship bar of the MaG family 1930 cocktail bar is an exceptional venue but without a membership card, you can not enter. And so the guys from MaG decided to create BackDoor43, a speakeasy in which you have to book in advance, not because they want to frustrate you, but because its the smallest bar in the world! The brilliant part of this bar is that it also offers a takeaway service, where you can choose from the MaG's most requested drinks. The new menu is odd but brilliant: the customer roles some dice and then must come up with a story based on the symbols rolled, upon which the bartender designs the drink. It inspires a unique and often hilarious conversation, bridging the gap between bartender and customer like no other menu in the world.

The new dice menu with Sophia posing for a bottle of Luxardo

The new dice menu with Sophia posing for a bottle of Luxardo

6. CERESIO 7

location 6/10, atmosphere 9.5/10, service 9.5/10, team 9/10, presentation 8/10, taste 8/10, ice 8/10 - overall 8.3/10 (€17+)

Imagine drinking a perfectly balanced Old Fashioned inside a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by the hottest girls in Milano. Well sadly you can't actually get in the pool but my hope is that one day Guglielmo Miriello will make my dream come true. Ceresio is one of most glamorous bars in Milano, and the favorite bar of many. A must visit on a cocktail bar tour of the city. Poolside photo by Flavia Arditi of Flawless Milano.

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7. TALEA

location 5/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 10/10, team 9.5/10, presentation 9.5/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 8.1/10 (€15)

TALEA is extremely ambitious, with Filippo Sisti aiming to give his customers a memorable experience akin to what they'd expect at a Michelin star restaurant. To achieve this difficult feat, TALEA brings together world class hospitality (Petra Dolci, ex Carlo e Camilla handles the floor), a captivating ambiance, and some truly wild yet enjoyable cocktails. His drinks are completely original and he has taken his liquid kitchen concept above and beyond what he was doing at Carlo e Camilla. Amazingly, his team have developed nearly 200 preparations for their initial list - good luck copying his drinks! Filippo's bar team is made up young talents Federico Lombardi and Simone De Angelis whom he intentionally chose because they weren't familiar to most. In this way, customers can more easily become captivated by the overall experience at TALEA: the cool colors of the walls and backbar, the comfortable chairs, and the cocktail eye candy. One of Filippo's goals is to challenge the preconceptions of his guests, serving his drinks seasonally but in reverse: until December using winter ingredients and after December using summer ingredients.

A great fresh and sour drink from the list is El Choncho with gin, peach water, pineapple tepache, carot leaf liqueur and chutney of fermented fruit. My favorite drink on the list is the herbaceous and nutty Saving Grace with tonic cordial with aromatic herbs, fenugreek liqueur, blended scotch whisky, lemon and a bouquet of wild herbs.

The talent and passion of Filippo Sisti will leave you in awe, as will his wondrous yet accessible drink list that evoke new and gratifying emotions. Check out the recently launched Vivarium "Chef's Table" set to launch in September, serving a 90-minute tasting menu consisting of 5 cocktails paired with food dishes.

El Choncho and Saving Grace

El Choncho and Saving Grace

8. CASA MIA

location 10/10, atmosphere 7/10, service 9.5/10, team 8/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.9/10 (€10-€15)

Casa Mia is a cozy cocktail lounge in Viale Regina Giovanna run by the friendly team of owners Luigi Ferrario and Amanita Toktok and bartender Manuel Quintiero. From the sweetheart staff to the comfortable couch perfect for meditating over a Manhattan, every element of Casa Mia will make you feel like you're at home. The most special place at Casa Mia is the tucked away bar counter, where in addition to being surrounded many high-end bottles, you'll get to mingle with the friendly habitués and industry people that frequent the bar.  Other than Manuel’s great Spaghetti Western features mezcal, agave syrup, tonic water infused with tomato, tabasco, taco rim, ask for the Negroni Draft, a very important drink dedicated to the memory of Matteo Mevio.

Negroni draft

Negroni draft

9. THE SPIRIT

location 8/10, atmosphere 8/10, service 8/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 7.5/10, ice 8/10 - overall 7.9/10 (€15)

The Spirit is a slick cocktail bar in Porta Romana. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the bar is the porthole window at the entrance, an irresistible invitation to find out what is hidden inside the bar. It's a brilliant idea, even if it could be exploited by paparazzi to spy on people inside.

As you enter you will see the handsome bar team of Carletto Simbula, Vincenzo Losappio and Jacopo Castronovo. A beautiful detail of the bar is the luxurious mahogany bar counter. From the most comfortable bar stool in Milano, you will see beautiful mirrors everywhere, a matrix of lights on the ceiling and the more private area in the back of the bar. The Spirit oozes romance.

The Spirit's drinks are very good, albeit a bit pricey at € 15. From the previous menu, I really enjoyed North West Trip, a reinterpreted Boulevardier with Liquore delle Sirene, Crown Royal whiskey, Linie Aquavit, Cocchi Storico Vermouth, Gonzalez Byass Sherry Palo Cortado, Orange and mandarine bitters.

North West Trip; Agnese at The Spirit entrance

North West Trip; Agnese at The Spirit entrance

10. SURFER'S DEN

location 4/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 9/10, team 9/10, presentation 7.5/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.5/10 (€11-€16)

Yuri Gelmini and Irene Bottura have just launched the Winter 2019 menu at Surfer’s Den called Piantala, which means “plant it” in Italian, but more commonly “shut up!”

Yuri of course isn’t asking us to be quiet, but suggests that we can learn something from plants, once again protagonists on the menu. In this clever menu, which is actually a game, you roll dice to see which of the 12 drinks you will consume. For each drink, you get a stamp. If you collect them all, you get a special pass which unlocks the mystery drink and you will have the privilege to order it whenever you visit. However, if you let someone else use your pass or let your buddy take a sip of the drink, your privilege will be immediately revoked.

The menu was designed by Bianca Maria Fiorentino with Valeria Cardea contributing the beautiful text to accompany the drinks. Here we find ourselves learning from plants, in particular, in how they can solve every day problems such as bypassing lineups at the grocery store or strategies for efficiently cleaning your house. I had the good fortune of translating Valeria’s brilliant words to English.

The highlight of the menu is Pomi D’Ottone e Manici di Scopa with Opihr gin, Amara Rossa, Lemon juice, Mango Chutney and a Curry rim. Take a sip first from the clean side of the rim, and then from the curry rim side. You will be blown away by the difference the curry can make, which creates a perfect balance to this cocktail with oriental spicy notes.

Menu at Surfer’s den

Menu at Surfer’s den


Top 10 Everyday bars

1. CAMPARINO

location 10/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 9/10, team 9/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 7/10 - overall 8.4/10 (€10)

In 1860, in a small bar in Novara, Gaspare Campari first invented the recipe to Campari, the iconic Italian bitter. In 1862, Gaspare moved to the historic Camparino in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to launch his brand in Milano and then to the world. The service is always impeccable thanks to a strong team lead by Tommaso Cecca.

Order a Campari or Zucca Shakerato, the drinks of choice of world travelling bartender Zdenek Kastanek. In the Duomo area, Camparino is a daily ritual for the business crowd, who take an after-lunch espresso up at the beautiful bar counter, or enjoy a cocktail just before dinner at one of the tables.

Campari Shakerato at Camparino (photos Toney Teddy Fernandez)

Campari Shakerato at Camparino (photos Toney Teddy Fernandez)

2. RITA

location 9/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 8/10, team 8/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.9/10 (€10)

Before Luca and Andrea, before MaG, there was Rita, born in 2002 in Via Fumagalli 1. The secret of its success? Refreshing cocktails, natural ingredients, always top quality products. The perfect spot to sit is at the counter, so you can admire the splendor of the majestic bottles and the other customers sitting around the sociable U-shaped bar counter. There is a feeling of serenity in Rita, despite the chaos of the Milanese aperitif.

The signature drink is the Gin Zen with ginger, gin, lime, cordial lime, soda, crushed ice and is fresh, sour and refreshing and a great start for the summer evening. If you have the good fortune of meeting the owner Edo Nono, you will understand what Pier Strazzeri means when he says "When I grow up, I want to be like Edo".

Leo Todisco (ex Lacerba) is the head bartender and is joined by Simone and Niccolò, who always deliver you a great drink with a smile. Don't forget the food at Rita, which is delicious thanks to chef and co-owner Luca Chiaruttini, the other owner of the bar. I suggest the delicious Coca-Cola chicken wings.

Edo with his favorite  Martini cocktail

Edo with his favorite Martini cocktail

3. MAG CAFE

location 9/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 7/10, team 9/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.9/10 (€10)

When you visit the Mag in Ripa di Porta Ticinese 43 there is the feeling of entering a Parisian café in Montmartre. The bar is decorated with great taste with hundreds of items purchased at antique markets. The bar is dimly lit, giving Mag an intimate and relaxing atmosphere. In addition to the head Flavio Angiolillo, the bar team features the talented Francesco Bonazzi and Marianna Di Leo. Thanks to these names and an enchanting atmosphere, MaG always remains a reference point for drinking in the city. The latest drink theme involves MAG currency, which customers receive when they purchase a drink. It’s fun to collect the MaG money, with bank notes featuring the various staff members. Eventually you can trade the money in for free drinks, bar accessories or even a date with Flavio! MAG continues its tradition of the most creative menus in the city.

Head bartender Marianna; Mag money

Head bartender Marianna; Mag money

4. BOB

location 8/10, atmosphere 8/10, service 9/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 7/10, ice 7/10 - overall 7.9/10 (€10)

Luca of Chinese box fame has recently opened BOB, a sexy Chinese-Italian fusion restaurant bar in Isola. Although the outstanding bao and dumplings are the highlight of BOB, the cocktail game is also strong thanks to Lucian and Cesar, who deliver tasty concoctions with impeccable style. Don’t miss out on the spicy and smokey Los Cuatrocientos Conejos.

Italian-Fusion dumplings; Los Cuatrocientos Conejos.

Italian-Fusion dumplings; Los Cuatrocientos Conejos.

5. BOTANICAL CLUB Pastrengo

location 7/10, atmosphere 8/10, service 7/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 8/10, ice 9/10 - overall 7.7/10 (€10)

Botanical Club caught everyone's attention 3 years ago when it first opened, being the first bar to distill its own gin called Spleen et Ideal with 8 botanicals (juniper, angelica, coriander, green cardamom, rosebuds, iris, lime peel, mandarin peel). Entering the bar in the trendy Isola district, I was immediately impressed with the slick bar area and good looking customers. From the new drink list, try the 48, a name inspired by the first war of independence in Pastrengo in 1848. It features Spleen et ideal gin, lime juice, lemongrass syrup, plum bitters and organic champagne.

Mattia with Hepple Gin Martini Cocktail and Tuxedo Cocktail

Mattia with Hepple Gin Martini Cocktail and Tuxedo Cocktail

6. REBELOT

location 9/10, atmosphere 7/10, service 7/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 8/10, ice 7/10 - overall 7.7/10 (€10)

Rebelot was born as the spin off tapas bar of Al Pont de Ferr but Luca Vezzali and Erica have recently taken over management, transforming it into a more traditional restaurant with an excellent cocktail program. The cocktail menu has 12 drinks, grouped under Modern Aperitivo, Soda-based, Classics and Gastro. The best I've tried was Cameron's Kick with Irish whiskey, single malt scotch, pear, almond, fino sherry, and black cardamom. Dreaming Pantelleria is a great negroni with a foam of almond milk. For food dishes, I suggest the cold cuts and heavenly pasta alla Norma.

Cameron's Kick and Dreaming Pantelleria

Cameron's Kick and Dreaming Pantelleria

7. BOTANICAL CLUB

location 6/10, atmosphere 7/10, service 7/10, team 8/10, presentation 8/10, taste 8/10, ice 9/10 - overall 7.6/10 (€10)

My first trip to the Isola location of Botanical was memorable and I was lucky to run into Mattia Capezzuoli managing the bar program at Botanical Tortona.  In addition to excellent cocktails with beautiful ice thanks to an in-house Hoshizaki, you can try some outstanding raw fish at Botanical. Not to be missed is the best poke salad in the city.

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8. PINCH

location 9/10, atmosphere 7/10, service 7/10, team 7/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.3/10 (€10)

Mattia Lissoni, decided to open up a bar with a similar formula as MAG: great drinks and cool people. As soon as you enter, the cozy atmosphere will immediately remind you of MAG, but with a British flair. If you must do the Milanese happy hour, Pinch is easily your best bet on the Navigli as they serve refreshingly original sides to go along with your drink. From the latest drink list, don't miss the flavorful Terra cocktail with scotch whisky, Japanese prune liqueur, Marsala, orange and Angostura bitters. Mercurio, a revisited whisky-based Bloody Mary is also a delight for the palate. Taking over Pinch as bar manager is the impossible not to love Erik Viola, who happens to also be one of the best bartenders in Milano.

Erik throwing; Pepper Porn cocktail

Erik throwing; Pepper Porn cocktail

9. ITER

location 8/10, atmosphere 8/10, service 8/10, team 8/10, presentation 7/10, taste 6/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.3/10 (€9)

Iter is Flavio Angiolillo's new project that is tucked away on a quiet street close to the hustle and bustle of Naviglio Grande. Iter is intimate, but spacious, thanks to its high ceilings, where the large bar wooden bar counter is the focal point. Bar stools are replaced with large, comfortable armchairs, at the perfect height to comfortably eat and drink. 

The magic of this bar is inspired by its name, which means journey in Latin. Every six months, the boys will go on a trip to a new country, bringing back the best food, liqueurs and spirits to fuse with their Italian menu, making them the first fusion cocktail bar. The latest fusion menu is with Panama, with a strong focus on drinks made with Ron Abuelo Panamá.

Idris, the head bartender at Iter; the new Panama menu

Idris, the head bartender at Iter; the new Panama menu


10.
Rotonda Bistro

location 7/10, atmosphere 7/10, service 8/10, team 8/10, presentation 7/10, taste 8/10, ice 6/10 - overall 7.3/10 (€9)

Rotonda Bistro is managed by Diego Ferrari, also of Cocktail Art fame. Because of convoluted Italian regulations, the historical building where the bar is located is restricted to serving drinks made with bottles having less than 21% ABV. Instead of throwing in the towel when faced with this incredible challenge, Diego began passionately researching low alcohol spirits, liqueurs and bitters to come up with innovative cocktails to serve to his guests, transforming Rotonda’s limitation into something unique. He is now considered a world leader in low ABV cocktails. He has recently written a book called Low Alcohol Cocktails: New Frontiers in Mixology. One example of Diego’s innovative low potency drinks is the 1848, a delicious Low ABV twist on the French 75 with 15 ml lemon, 35 ml St-Germain, 20 ml Spitz, and a top up of prosecco.

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