One of the things I beat like a dead horse to all my friends, whether in America or England, is how amazing the culture of aperitivo is in Italy. Mainly, I appreciate that it is a social food and drink ritual which has an intention: to stimulate your appetite before having a meal. I personally extremely appreciate the drinking and eating culture in Italy.
Generally speaking, the basic person knows how to enjoy a glass of wine with a plate of good snacks. I am constantly amused that everyone is basically a foodie by nature, not in America where we usually train to be a foodie. I love that most everyday Italians know when the acidity is good with a wine, when it’s too flat or when it’s extravagant. I appreciate that they practice moderation (unless you head to the Veneto where a glass of Prosecco at 10am and still with one in your hand until 2am is acceptable) and that generally, alcohol is treated as a pleasure rather than a recreational sport.
What is Italian aperitivo like at bars and locales? Basically, there are a few ways aperitivo is done. One is that you have access to a buffet of SNACKS (not meals, like most treat it as) that you have free access to with a purchase of a drink. Another is where a bar brings you a small set of snacks like olives, potato chips and vegetables crudite’ or you can order aperitivo snacks off the menu. The snacks you should look for are: crostini, meat and cheese boards but in small quantities- you don’t want to ruin your appetite for dinner!
I think the aperitivo-buffet option is really gross and how some will go out for aperitivo as a cheap dinner. This will usually cost 8-15euros, depending on where you go. Hotels like the Westin Excelsior do a 20euro aperitivo at their rooftop bar and their buffet is edible, drinks are decent, plus you can’t beat the 360 view of the city!
Most of the time however, the stuff at aperitivo is what I deem “robaccia“ meaning nasty loads of crap. Want a cheap dinner? Get a pizza and a beer and spend just as much as you would spend at a garbage aperitivo buffet. Most aperitivo bars, that are the most popular among the mainstream, are to me mountains of cheap, overcooked supermarket pasta with canned olives or canned tomatoes and questionable meat sauce or random mystery pieces of pork fat. Other nasty suspects of note are canned tuna and starchy rice, tasteless cheap mozzarella, budget mortadella in cubes and overcooked frozen pre-cut (probably canned) vegetables. It’s disgusting and pure garbage. And don’t get me started on the overuse of hot dogs in rice and overcooked cold egg frittata. It seems like with robaccia like this, aperitivo buffets are simply using the general public as their garbage disposals for leftover food from the same day’s lunch service.
There are few bars that I like which serve aperitivo and my criteria is as such:
Aperitivo should not be a cheap way to have a garbage dinner. Nonetheless, it somehow evolved to become a buffet event where more “antipasti” (appetizer) foods started to pop up. I prefer to go to a bar that has a nice wine list and a small but thoughtful buffet with high quality ingredients. My selections are based on places that don’t do budget, cheap filler food buffets so if that is what you are looking for, you’ve come to the wrong food blog. With that being said, these are my favorite places to go for aperitivo in Florence:
Signorvino near the Ponte Vecchio- Now this place has huge potential. I really hope they don’t start sucking, like most bars in Florence. The location is unbeatable- you can sit on the patio with the beautiful Ponte Vecchio at stone’s throw view. They have an impressive selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle. It is a wine store too so you could in theory, grab a bottle off the shelf to enjoy with aperitivo. Their aperitivo is fairly priced at 6-7 euros and comes with wine and this little personal platter of snacks. Dear Signorvino, please do not ever go south in quality. Address: Via de Bardi, 46R, Florence, Italy. Website: http://www.signorvino.com/it
Le Volpi e L’Uva- More of a wine bar, but still one of my favorite places for Aperitivo. They have a fantastic rotating list of wines, from tiny producers of natural wines, and a way too dangerously tasty selection of finger foods. I like their toasted crostini they make with fontina and lardo, or fontina and spicy salami ‘nduja. They don’t do aperitivo (no buffet, no chips/olives) but I suggest coming during aperitivo time (6pm-8pm) and ordering a glass of wine and a small snack such as one of their crostini and cured meat plates (which are the best in town in terms of quality- their wild boar salami may clog my arteries but I love it.) Address: Piazza dei Rossi, 1R
Quelo in Santa Croce- When Quelo first opened, I went there quite frequently but for some reason forgot how quirky and cool it is or got distracted by wine bars. Afterall, Quelo is a pretty stellar fresh cafe mixing up inventive fruit and vegetable juice based cocktails. This bar is simple and good for vegan and vegetarians since their small aperitivo usually includes quinoa and bean salads, raw veggie pinzimonio, bruschetta and veggie dips. I must say, the salads are simple and nothing spectacular, but for someone wanting a change from prosciutto and pecorino- Quelo offers a healthy compromise. If you go, try to get one of their fresh juice-based cocktails, think celery, ginger, vodka and other fruit juices. Skip the wine and beer. Address: Via Borgo Santa Croce, 15
Belmond Villa San Michele- Located in Fiesole (and there is a complimentary shuttle service from Piazza della Repubblica every 30 minutes on the hour), this is one of the most stunning places to do aperitivo. I don’t believe they do a buffet, but their wine list is spectacular, service impeccable, and they have a fascinating list of artisan cheeses. I would suggest coming up here for a romantic occasion (hot date, anniversary, etc) and get a table overlooking the whole Tuscan countryside around sunset time. Order a fabulous bottle of wine and order one of their diverse cheese platters. This is a really luxury experience and I think a must for the bon vivant in all of us. Address: Via Doccia, 4 (shuttle service from Piazza della Repubblica, look for the van with “Belmond Villa San Michele” written)
Tamerò in Santo Spirito- A lot of the cool kids in Florence love to pile into Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno, but I must say most of the bars there really suck and their aperitivo and food choices frightful. However, T’Amero is one of the better bars in Piazza Santo Spirito. They have a sturdy wine by the glass menu and no cocktail worth ordering besides a spritz, but the ambiance, service and aperitivo food variety is great for people who just want to hang out at a cool bar. Their aperitivo buffet is made fresh and is not just leftover food from lunch. The offerings may include polenta and ragu, fresh grain salads, gourmet fried pasta bites and if you can, order a small tagliere chop board of cured meats and cheeses. The one time I had pasta here for aperitivo, I didn’t want to complain. They are after all, a pasta bar restaurant. Plus I like the funky, artsy interior. Good bathrooms, too. Address: Piazza Santo Spirito 11R
Mad Souls & Spirits in San Frediano- The best way to describe Mad is like a divey sports bar without the televisions and a mighty shelf of tequilas and rye vodkas for decent craft cocktails at Italian prices. Again, no buffet but they offer a humble plate of crackers, olives, tramezzini, vegetable crudites and such. Borgo S. Frediano, 36-38r
Il Borro Tuscan Bistro near Via Tornabuoni- By standard definition, Il Borro is for sure a restaurant and not exactly a bar. However, I do approve of their aperitivo which runs from 6pm till about 8pm. This is a decent place for a spritz, to taste wines produced by them, while overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and very simple, finger food aperitivo with stylish presentation. To no surprise for a knack for style, Il Borro is owned by the fashion megastar Ferragamo. Il Borro is named after their medieval estate out in Arezzo where they operate a Relais and Chateaux and produce their own olive oils and wine. Therefore, it’s a great spot for wine too.They also serve their homemade schiacciata bread and hand-cut potato chips. Schiacciata is a Tuscan flatbread I tease as the only bread with flavor in Tuscany. Address: Lungarno Acciaiuoli, 80R
Dolce Vita in Piazza del Carmine (Oltrarno)– This is an extremely Florentine hang-out which has signage reminiscent of 80’s cool kids but at the same time feeling like one of those chic white leather couch and bright blue lights place. It’s a staple for Florentines and I’d have to say, has increased in quality over the years for both it’s drink offerings and aperitivo snacks. I usually hate buffets at any Aperitivo bar but this one isn’t so bad. You have to be careful what you pick, stick to simple snacks, but for example they make a mean gin and tonic using quality gin and craft tonics which are all the rage right now at bars around Florence.Address: Piazza del Carmine, 5
Hemingway near Piazza Tasso- I must thank my good friend Georgette of Girl in Florence for tipping me off to Hemingway’s secret aperitivo offering. For 7-8 euros, you really can’t beat it what I’m about to recommend. A solid (or rather liquid) vintage cocktail list and bitter old man drinks, just the way I like them (not men, drinks). In addition to great drinks for people like me who can’t stand sugary cocktails, it comes with a personal, simple artisan charcuterie/tagliere plate. It’s a small place, and better for couples or solo-travelers who are looking for a bit of recluse from the loud, busy bar scene. The best part is that if you’d like dessert post-aperitivo, they have a tempting selection of chocolate goodies made in-house. Address: Piazza Piattellina, 9,
Amble- They don’t exactly have that buffet of snacks but I suggest getting a spritz and one of their signature tramezzini sandwiches, homemade dips with raw crudites, nuts and crackers. Tramezzini and Spritz are a Venetian aperitivo tradition but here they are made with contemporary style. The vibe here is very vintage (they sell furniture), hipster, artsy and retro. I love the location as it’s tucked away from the madness yet being near Ponte Vecchio in a quiet little piazzetta. I must say, one of the guys that works here has some of the worst service skills in the city and I almost regret recommending Amble because of him. But the place is so damn cute that I just tolerate his crap. This is definitely where the younger crews hang and the spritz are varied, meaning not just one spritz on the menu but other with notes of ginger or other fruit and boozy additions. Address: Chiasso dei del Bene
Dorsoduro 3821- Speaking on Venetian spritz and Cicheti (finger foods) this place is pretty great and probably better than Amble in terms of service, their spritz drinks are more classic and they have a good selection of regional wines plus craft beers. However, they only have a few tables inside but cute seating outside. They have traditional Venetian cicheti things like fried baccala’ fritters. The place is named after a popular Venetian quarter and the owner is from Venice, if you love this dream-boat city and the cicheti & spritz culture, you’ll love this place for aperitivo in Florence. Address: Via S. Gallo, 31,
Enoteca Caffe Sant’Ambrogio- I’ve decided to keep this one as a recommendation even though their cocktails lack and their food is mostly questionable. This bar holds a special place in my heart because it was my neighborhood hang-out for a couple years. They do consistently have sliced cured meats, crudite/vegetables, potato chips, etc which constitute in my opinion more of a traditional aperitivo and their wine list is really great. Tocai, Inzolio, Ansonica Falanghina, Aglianico, the autochthonous list goes on. I mean, it is hard to find a simple bar with a great wine list that isn’t just pandering to commercial tastes like Chianti, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon-Blanc. This is also where tons of locals hang out in a super authentic area of town. While I’ve listed some rather modern places- they also are a bit too trendy for a larger demographic of locals. I think it’s important to see some simple bars, even if they don’t have perfectly displayed snacks, hipster decor and a view. Tips: Inside is a bit dark and no-frills. I suggest getting a bottle of wine off the menu and sitting at one of their tables outside in the Piazza. It’s buzzing and you’ll get a slice of everyday life. Address: Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 7
Rex Cafe- By night, Rex is a sardine can crammed of people trying to boogie on a tissue-sized space of dance floor but with pretty decent DJ sets. Before the madness ensues, they are a prime cocktail lounge and they do one of the best aperitivo services in town (inho). They have a selection of finger foods to pick from (butter and anchovy toasts) and always bring olives, chips and crudite with any drink ordered. They have a great selection of small-batch vermouths for classic cocktails like a Manhattan and the barman there now is talented (Mose Giordani, previously Lo Sverso and Mercato Centrale). Depending on the day, they may have special drink menus like one based all on Absinthe (i.e. Sazerac is on the bill and the flaming sugar service). The seating is spacious and they have a little room to sit and dwell on comfy vintage couch seating and decor.
Fusion Bar and Restaurant near Ponte Vecchio- The quality of the cocktails here are superb and they serve their signature craft drinks with a little sushi bento box from their Peruvian/Japanese fused cuisine. Hence the name “fusion.” The interior is cozy and yet seems like a contrived attempt at re-creating an “at-home” feel. The barmen are quite courteous and the drinks are for the inner fancy cocktail lovers in all of us. Address: Vicolo dell’Oro, 3, 50123 Florence, Italy,
This are the top Aperitivo Bars in Florence I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll make some future posts adding on to my opinionated list of “approved” aperitivo selection.
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In my curious opinion,
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