Craft cocktails is such a buzzword these days that I almost resent using it- and loads of bars are throwing it around like confetti at a wedding and quality drinking has become another one of those pretentious trends…or maybe fancy drinks have always been pretentious? But after being in Bologna for the last few weeks, my appreciation has grown for the craft cocktail scene in Florence. By no means better than Milan or Rome, or even Turin, but it’s a collaborative community with good people who do their homework.
Quality cocktails is like a necessary food group for any bon vivant, and ideally should be consumed with a discerning palate. That’s why I came up with this craft cocktail Aperitivo tour in Florence! But in case you wanted a dose of unsolicited reality: alcohol has horrible effects on the liver and the digestive system- period. Don’t even get me started on empty calories! You can find some pseudo-science article about a glass a day being good for heart health including the Italian obsession with it’s supposed positive effects on digestion (although many would beg to differ), If you really wanted to improve digestion/stimulate appetite, you’d eat a diet rich in bitter greens, dash some bar bitters or a bitter herb-based tincture in some water, drink herbal teas after meals, etc but NOT guzzle down a Negroni for aperitivo, wine with dinner and/or an after-dinner Old-Fashioned.
I’m not a “salutista” (health-nut), I totally believe that life is for enjoyment and we should partake in these delights, as long as we are conscious and moderate about it. Probably being raised partly by my older sister (an extremely knowledgeable certified nutritionist) I realize how indulgences must first be tempered, and if done- might as well do them in good taste. And what do I mean by a good drink? One that has been crafted and not just mixed by a professional who is passionate/treats drinks like an art, where unique recipes of liqueurs, vermouths and bitters are incorporated, ideally very little commercial/industrial liquids, house-made bar bitters, herbal simple syrups or infused spirits and the correct use of glassware, attention to ice and chilling/shaking/stirring methods.
Whatever city I find myself in, one of the first things I need to map out is where to get a good drink. I thank Seattle for its impressive drinks scene, distilleries, wine makers, mixologists, speak-easy style bars…for teaching me how to drink. I’m not saying I always was a fancy pants drinker, certainly not above a well whisky and soda from a dive bar, but always on the hunt for someone who can make my liver curse me with a balanced yet bold Vermouth-based libation.
One of my favorite bartender teams in Florence is Julian Biondi and Neri Fantechi. I first got to know them at Caffe Florian off Via Tornabuoni and they competed (and won) Florence Cocktail Week. With guts and grit, Neri and Julian put in their notice at Florian and a month later opened a bar together called Mad Souls & Spirits. Opening night was a reminder of how tight the drinks community is in Florence. Bartenders from around town (and even some came up from around the region) volunteered behind the bar and had no ego about it- I’m not sure how the community in other cities are but it made quite the impression on me.
A good Barman never reveals his drink secrets- this libation a custom vermouth-based mystery mix. Tonight another craft cocktail spot has opened in Florence by the rad Neri Fantechi (pictured whispering to Ghermai) and Julian Biondi- winners of @florencecocktailweek now stirring spells at Mad Souls & Spirits on Borgo San Frediano 36R. Go check it out! #supercall #boozetraveler
Neri and Julian’s bar Mad Souls & Spirits is on Borgo San Frediano, opened October 31st 2016 and it was much needed, as most drinks in that part of the Oltrarno (San Frediano) suck. There are a good few addresses in the Oltrarno, but mostly near Santo Spirito like Gurdulu and Rasputin. Dolce Vita makes a decent Gin & Tonic and Hemingway doesn’t screw up a Manhattan but that’s pretty much it, right?
One of the problems I’ve found with craft cocktails in Florence is that they cost a pretty penny and thus price out most locals. The reality is the average income of Italians is somewhere between 1000-1500 euros a month- a 15eu cocktail is a good chunk of that salary. What’s then left in these locales are wealthy travelers or way too pretentious Florentines and not many down-to-earth working young people.
But- take the mad skill of Julian and Neri, mix it with their laid-back nature (not going all crazy with the antique accoutrement and fancy bar design) and you got a good ol’ regular bar where drink quality is emphasized more than the atmosphere- not a speakeasy, not a concept bar, not a rooftop/piazza bar with a view…you know, what bars used to be like but with exceptional drinks at normal prices (7euros a pop, average). Bonus is that they do little finger foods like peanut butter tramezzini (triangle wonder-bread sandwiches) which makes whatever is left of my American soul left smile. Yippee- an Italian joint that appreciates peanut butter jelly time!
I’ve written a couple of guides to drinks in Florence, like for Eater: Where to drink Cocktails in Florence, Italy And other drink related pieces like Florence’s Craft Cocktail Revival and Florence’s first Secret bar
In addition to these wordy articles, here are my updated picks for finding craft cocktails in Florence:
Mad Souls and Spirits- Fun, garage-sale glassware, simple-no frills atmosphere and high quality bar team mixing up craft cocktails from classic to inventive, utilizing a strategic bar stock from classic Campari to independent, small producers of liqueurs, bitters and spirits, and house-made infusions. Bar snacks, check. Think local-hang out dive pub without the seedy parts of what defines a dive bar. Borgo San Frediano 36R. Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/madsoulsandspirits/
Mayday Club- Serving “awesomeness” since 2001, Mayday should be considered Florence’s true mixology den. Classic and inventive cocktails in a funky, eclectic atmosphere and are prepared with house-made infusions, obscure liquors, all natural juices from local organic fruit producers. Address: Via Dante Alighieri, 16r,
Ditta Artigianale (Oltrarno)- Not just a coffeeshop for hipsters, when Karim (former head barman at Fusion Bar- another stellar place) is around, the drinks are magically delicious. The owner has a penchant for craft gin and I’ve found the libations served here to be of high quality thanks to the rigorous selection of unique alcoholic products. Address: Via dello Sprone 3/5R
Rivoire- While Rivoire is more of a historical coffee house in Florence renowned for hot chocolate and lux sweets, the head bartender Luca Picchi is responsible for writing a book on the history of the Negroni. This is Florence’s signature aperitivo cocktail of Campari, Vermouth, Gin, orange twist and a touch of soda. For history’s sake, Rivoire is considered one of the 2 bars (Caffe Casoni, now Giacosa) where Negroni was first served. But only go when Luca is around and hang out at the bar- otherwise get slapped with an handsome table service fee. Address: Piazza della Signoria, 5
Goldenview Bar- Considering it’s proximity to the Ponte Vecchio and impressive views over the river, it’s almost shocking that you can get a quality drink here. I say this because most strategically placed locales in Florence usually blow in quality, and not to fault of their own necessarily, high overhead doesn’t exactly afford much in some cases. But not Goldenview, especially when Fabiano Buffolino is in the house. Fabiano makes a wide array of well-crafted drinks, isn’t afraid to play with fire behind the bar, not in at gimmicky way, and makes all drinks worth drinking. Their aperitivo snacks are usually acceptable and there is usually plenty of space inside. I wish more cool people came here because the location and drink quality are equally subperb, just make sure Fabiano is there. Address: Via de’ Bardi, 58/r
Gurdulu- While most associate Gurdulu with being a trendy modern restaurant, the lady Sabrina Galloni behind the bar is impressive and worth many visits. A+ on presentation, balance and service. They portioned off a bar area so you can totally show up for a craft drink and a gourmet bar snack Address: 14R, Via delle Caldaie, 12
Caffe Florian- Even if Neri and Julian aren’t here anymore, they left the bar to a very enthusiastic and competent barkeep. Swanky atmosphere, ideal for dress-up dates with loves and pals. The interior is defined by velvet chairs and bartenders in dapper vests. Address: Via di Parione, 32/R
La Menagere- Part Florist/Part Urban Outfitters-esque housewares gift shop and part international eatery lounge with fresh squeezed juices and craft cocktails. While I’m not a fan of the food, the drinks are dependable. It’s one of the few spacious, concept spots in Renaissance-thick Florence. Address: Via Ginori 8R
Sabor Cubano- Rad laid-back and cool Lopez Martinez brings Cuban soul to Florence with freshly muddled mojitos, margaritas and daiquiris made totally fresh with black salt rims, herbs, lime and select Cuban rums. Address Via Sant’Antonino 64R
Rasputin- Florence’s first secret bar, tended by concise and professional barmen and in one of the most soulful atmosphere’s in town. Victrola vintage sounds waxing in the background in an antique 20’s style living room vibe underground and with a secret door that you have to walk up and down probably a few times before you figure out where/what it is. Address: Somewhere in Santo Spirito
Rivalta Firenze- Even if Rivalta attracts a crowd that’s not really my cup of tea and their aperitivo snacks make me sad, the location along the Arno river, rather swift yet cordial table service and consistent, interesting drinks will stay on my to-drink list. Address: Lungarno Corsini 12R
Locale- Swank to the max, Locale is an impressive bar with true talent of Matteo Di Lenno mixing shit up cherry picking vodkas, bitters and exotic flavors to play with to create fun cocktails such as smoked Mezcal Negronis and welcome boozy punch for anyone who walks through the door. The drinks are pricey, but it’s totally worth it for the experience (welcome punch, snacks, detailed presentation, ambiance, etc) Address: Via Delle Seggiole 12
Rex Cafe– Probably the only address in Sant’Ambrogio (near Santa Croce) that has good drinks, honestly. Only worth a visit before dinner or not past 11pm. They have themed cocktail specials like absinthe based menu and decent snacks during aperitivo like butter and anchovy toasts. I don’t know why this area is so terrible for drinking. Rex in the later hours turns into a sardine can and you can hardly move or breath because it’s one of the only places in town that has a cool vibe and good music/DJ sets for a boogie. The problem is that it’s so small, that you really can’t dance and if you’re like me, you’ve become to old for that shit. I’m 31 at time of writing. Address: Via Fiesolana 25
In your hooch trust,
Want more boozy stuff? Check out my Aperitivo in Florence page, follow me on Instagram (@curiousappetite) for new drinking holes I find in Florence, Bologna and beyond and heck while you’re at it, sign up for my craft cocktail aperitivo tour in Florence!