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 like leftovers from a cafeteria. This format 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 buffets leaves much to be desired in terms of freshness. Want a cheap dinner? Get a pizza and a beer and spend just as much as you would spend at a recycled food 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 suspects of note are canned tuna and starchy rice, tasteless cheap mozzarella, budget mortadella in cubes and overcooked frozen pre-cut (probably canned) vegetables. 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 very subjective 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 fresh 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- 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 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 you can grab a pizza from next door and share with friends or be content with dry snacks like crackers, olives and such. Borgo S. Frediano, 36-38r
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, 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 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 “tourist-free” area of town. While I’ve listed some rather modern places- they also are a bit 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
Fusion Bar and Restaurant near Ponte Vecchio- The quality of the cocktails here are superb and they serve their signature craft drinks with bites from their raw bar Asian-inspired menu. Hence the name “fusion.” The interior is cozy and yet seems like an authentic 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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