“Are we there yet?” I shout wobbling on the shiny pebbles, my bike increasingly difficult to control.
“Almost… it’s the second left. Or the third.”
Cycling in Milan on a mild evening, is arguably the best way to spend a night out in town: flat wide roads and few cars around if you avoid the two circular roads enclosing the city centre.
Unexpectedly, but rather unsurprisingly, my friend Ské brusquely swerves at the first road to the right. I follow him avoiding pedestrians and parked cars with an outstanding dribbling skill also known as sheer luck.
“You see” he pontificates while we secure our bikes outside the next stop of our bar crawl “ordering a cocktail here is not just picking a name from a list: you have to explain the barman your feelings, or an inspiring episode, and he’ll do the rest.”. I’m quite confused by this but I see his point. I think. It’s been a long night so far, started a few kilometres – and rounds – ago…
Bar Basso: a classic overture
It was easy to choose how to start a cocktail bar crawl in Milan. Where else other than the Bar Basso? The most notorious establishment that introduced the art of cocktails in the city that became the capital of mixology.
In this classic and sharp environment we joined the elegant Milanese ranks drinking out of glowing red fish-bowl glasses. As there is one thing you need to order: Negroni Sbagliato. It was invented here, by accident, changing the original Negroni recipe into something lighter and fresher: Campari, vermouth and prosecco (instead of gin). I love the story about this place being visited by jet-setters in the 60s – politicians, entrepreneurs, bandits… – flying in from Cortina, the classy winter retreat par excellence, to Linate just to enjoy a drink here.
Those days are long gone so, instead of flying back to snowy slopes, we mounted on our bikes and headed off to our next destination, as dusk languidly set on the buildings.
Working class Milan, world class drinks
After 20 good minutes pedalling the alcohol of our first drink evaporated and we were ready to start from scratch. The Selz Bar welcomed us with Battista’s broad smile and good-natured banter. I was invited to taste their famous Bloody Mary, made with the proper spices, difficult to find in Italy. I duly obliged, promising to bring back some celery salt from the UK, as I tucked in the spicy thick drink that would constitute, together with a few toast nibbles, my dinner.
Jokes and glasses are swapped at the bar counter while we delve into the leit-motif of the evening, Negroni Sbagliato, topped off with a final drink for a touch of class: shaken Campari, served in unique triangular glasses discontinued since the 70s.
Morgan’s: A magicians show
Back to us, to my friend’s cocktail bar philosophy and the difficult task of locking the bikes. We amble in the Morgan’s, a bar not far from Porta Ticinese, but safe from the its rowdy nights at the Colonne. The décor hits me as classy but welcoming, the playlist is well crafted. We talk to Jimmy, the master of ceremony here, and we decide that I shall have a Rocket Fuel. And so I do.
At this point I should clarify that I generally don’t like cocktails other than Negroni Sbagliato, but this lime green fuel I just bought is incredible. A balance of sweet and sour, the alcohol level skilfully dosed. But my favourite part of this bar is how they do the cocktails, a show that by itself should be enough of a reason to come to Morgan’s. They pour the spirits and mixers in a large vessels, with no measurement aid whatsoever. They spin the oversized glass a few times before pouring all its content in the highball. I never saw them spilling a single drop or leaving more than one millimetre from the rim. You need to see it to believe it.
Cocktails = Rita
If Milanese citizens would be surveyed to choose a word to translate “cocktail” in Italian, they would probably choose “Rita“. This is the traditional place where to have a proper cocktail skilfully crafted by expert barmen, using only the highest quality ingredients. Very busy, as always, it’s concealed in a quiet street off the Naviglio Grande, past the first chaotic bit and at safe distance from designer-friendly via Savona. We gladly chain our bikes to the next pole available while our friends text us, after a 15 minutes fruitless search for a parking spot, giving up and going back home. We drag our weary selves in the lush environment for our last drink of the night, Rita will close soon but nobody seems to care. The signature cocktail here is the Vodka Zen, but I opt for a much easier Gin&Tonic, obviously with Hendricks.
And so our night ends, looking at the shimmering lights and blurry shades reflecting on the Naviglio. Along its banks Milan lived its most intense and rough years, that seem to come back late at night when the last few people scurry away unsteady on their feet. We dig in profoundly philosophical matters while somehow cycling back home, where we fall asleep thinking of the cocktail bars to visit next time.
During this evening we’ve cycled across half Milan (17km), visiting:
- Bar Basso (Via Plinio, 39; website)
- Selz Bar (Via Antonia Pozzi, 1; Foursquare)
- Morgan’s (Via Francesco Novati, 2; Foursquare)
- Rita (Via Angelo Fumagalli, 1; Foursquare)
No barmen were hurt during our rampage.
Some livers were lightly damaged.