credit: Silvio Palladino Photography

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.

If you don’t like reading and just want a list, hit up my guide for Eater: The best places for cocktails in Florence 

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 its 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- not guzzle down a Negroni for aperitivo, wine with dinner and/or an after-dinner Old-Fashioned.

credit: Silvio Palladino

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. I realize how indulgences might as well be done 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.

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?

Heaven for me, hell for liver (Barshelf at Mad Souls and Spirits)
Heaven for me, hell for liver (Barshelf at Mad Souls and Spirits)

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!

best tramezzini ever and cocktails not too shabby either
best tramezzini ever and cocktails not too shabby either

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:

What it looks like before all the souls start pouring in
What it looks like before all the souls start pouring in

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:

Mayday's house-made Tuscan vermouth

Gilli- While Gilli is more of a historical cafe’ in Florence renowned for 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 Repubblica 

Manifattura-  The staff at Manifattura is bringing “made in Italy” back and offer a quality array of Italian classic drinks & amari. Their aperitivo snacks and dinner looks tempting and there is a swanky vibe to it without being too cool.

credit: Beatrice Mancini
RIP Florian- we miss you! credit: Beatrice Mancini

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 sometimes 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

credit: Beatrice Mancini
credit: Beatrice Mancini

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 

credit: Beatrice Mancini
credit: Beatrice Mancini

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 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,

Curious Appetite

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!

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