“What are we doing tonight?” – “What about a happy hour?”: in the northern part of Italy this is a common, if not daily, piece of conversation. This shows how successful the special aperitif with an open buffet is in the main cities of the Italian peninsula.
Among them, Milan is the unquestioned capital of what is not only an introduction to the proper dinner, but a ritual celebrating social gathering both with friends and unknown people.
The reasons for success
Happy hour’s popularity basically comes from an economic reason. Eating at a restaurant is rather expensive, especially in places like Milan, Turin, Florence… and sometimes, if you do not want to give up on quality, the final bill could be extremely high. The happy hour option, instead, requires the client to pay just for a drink – either alcoholic or not: then, he will also be served different kinds of finger food.
Here comes the best of it. Even if in some bars the waiter will bring you a single portion of appetizers to your table, most of the time you can take the food directly from an open buffet with a wide selection of hot and cold pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches, cupcakes and so on.
In the end the happy hour becomes a complete, low-cost dinner Italians cannot give up to. To be honest, you are allowed to fill one dish for each drink you buy, but there is no physical law which prevents an Italian to go mad in front of a self-service buffet. It is not rare to see people improvising as equilibrists while bringing three, four paper plates filled to overflowing with every kind of canapés and pieces of pizza and biscuits…
Once upon a time…
Antonio Benedetto Carpano, from Turin, is usually considered as the father of the Italian aperitif: he was the one who, at the end of the 18th century, invented the recipe for Vermouth, a mixture of white wine, aromatic herbs and spices. This drink spread to the best cafés of Italian cities and then abroad; today this special wine is still the base of a lot of pre-dinner cocktails.
What to drink: timeless cocktails
What are the most popular drinks to grab during an happy hour? Let’s start with a real evergreen: Martini, nothing but Vermouth itself, with the name of the famous brand which has marketed it throughout the world: try it alone or mixed with vodka. If you like stronger flavors, you’d rather prefer Americano, prepared with red Vermouth, bitter Campari and soda, or Negroni, from Florence, similar to Americano but with gin instead of soda. Another option: Negroni Sbagliato (Wrong Negroni), where sparkling sweet wine substitutes gin. And we cannot forget an everlasting classic, especially in Northern Italy: Spritz, made with white wine, or Prosecco, and Aperol.
Of course, being so cheap and satisfying, happy hour is a fashion for all the seasons, but it is mainly in spring and summer that bars are always full of people enjoying aperitif, especially where it is possible to stay on a terrace or a patio. What’s better than relaxing with friends and watching the sunset with a glass in your hand and comfort food to share?