Aperitivo is a practice so central to Italian social lives, it’s hard to define; not least because it can be interpreted in so many ways. It is the golden hour that marks the transition from late afternoon to early evening, and in simplest terms it’s a time for stopping with friends for a drink and something deliciously salty to snack on.
For the latter, anything goes in Florence, from some measly crisps to a lavish taglieri, a wooden board laden with Tuscan salami, local cheeses, schiacciata bread, olives and more. Aperitivo in Florence can morph into a full-blown buffet dinner, known as ‘apericena’, popular with students on a budget keen to fill up on cheap, fried carbs. In the historic centre, you’ll also find blackboards on every corner touting €5 Spritzes served with bruschetta.
While delicious, these are not strictly local to Florence. ‘The most Florentine aperitivo you’ll get is a glass of wine with a platter of coccoli (deep fried dough balls), stracchino (soft, tangy cream cheese) and prosciutto,’ says Francesco Mannarino, a trained sommelier who has lived in the city all his life. ‘A fiasco of Chianti Classico between friends is delicious and cheap, and it’s as local as it gets.’
Still, Florentines aren’t afraid to branch out once in a while. Florence Cocktail Week, taking place in July this year, has done a lot to encourage innovation in the city’s most established bars, as well as getting them back on their feet with events and mixology classes post-pandemic. At Locale, a bar that’s won a host of awards for its experimental cocktails and cuisine and that always has a line outside the door, head bartender Matteo di Lenno works closely with the kitchen team to prepare daily aperitivo snacks. ‘We follow the same concept of using seasonal, local produce for both our food and drink menus, searching for unusual preparations that you might not have imagined.’
Of course, no story about Florentine aperitivi would be complete without a mention of the Negroni, a cocktail of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth famously invented in this city in 1919 at the request of Count Camillo Negroni. Bitter and potent, it’s the ultimate pre-dinner cocktail and perhaps the reason food is so necessary when drinking in the city.
While you could easily stumble upon somewhere in Florence (just head to the lively student bars around Sant’Ambrogio and Borgo La Croce, where you can hop from bar to bar having a drink and a snack in each), you might want to map out your movements to maximise on the unique food-and-drink phenomenon come cocktail hour. Read on for a selection of the best local spots for an aperitivo in Florence.
8 of the best places for an aperitivo in Florence
Bulli e Balene
There’s a lot to love about this tiny Venetian-inspired bar, tucked away in vibrant Piazza della Passerà (literally meaning ‘Pussy Square’ – Florence’s historic red light district), but a €4 Spritz served in crystal-cut highball glasses is a good place to start. Aside from Aperol, they serve six or seven other Spritzes made using lesser-known bitter-orange aperitifs, as well as a refreshing elderflower Hugo Spritz for hot August nights. Drinks are served with delicious cicchetti snacks on toast – again taking a cue from Venice – with toppings including prosciutto, burrata, artichoke and red pepper.
What to drink: A Cynar Spritz – a version of the sparkling drink featuring the Italian digestivo, Cynar, which is made from artichokes (don’t worry, you’d never guess).
Via dello Sprone, 14/R. facebook.com/bulliebalene
This Medici palace turned late-night drinking den strikes a delicate balance with its offerings of louche all-night parties and world-class mixology. It is, hands-down, the coolest cocktail spot in town. Each season, head barman Matteo di Lenno picks three local ingredients – pumpkin, peach and cucumber, for example – and concocts a drinks menu around them. The snacks are equally inventive: you’ll get a carefully balanced tower of avant-garde nibbles, such as polenta chips with lacto-fermented radicchio or a beignet with olives, mushrooms and green lentil foam. The clientele is made up of high-energy Italian socialites, with sequins and corsets the unspoken dress code on weekends – dancing on tables isn’t unheard of.
What to drink: Elisir Caterina, a tribute to Caterina Medici made from vermouth, bitters and raw artichoke soda.
Via delle Seggiole 12r, historic center. localefirenze.it
Florence is home to the Negroni, famously created in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favourite Milano-Torino by adding gin to the drink. 103 years later and it’s still a staple in the city (and known the world over), the ultimate aperitivo drink – where crisps and olives on the side are obligatory. In magnificent Piazza della Repubblica, close to the bar where the cocktail was first concocted, 270-year-old Caffè Gilli’s Negronis come strong and perfectly proportioned.
What to drink: The Negroni (well, it would be rude not to)
Via Roma, 1r. caffegilli.com
A natural wine bar that wouldn’t be out of place in east London, this chic spot near the Duomo prides itself on an exclusively Italian collection of organic and biodynamic wines. These are served with aperitivo nibbles like fat Tuscan olives, grissini and grilled cheese toasties with onion marmalade. Perch at one of the high tables outside on a warm evening, or head inside to enjoy whatever’s on the record player as you quaff your wine.
What to drink: One of the weekly changing orange wines available by the glass
Via degli Alfani, 39r. vineriasonora.it
Enoteca Sosta e Papi
This is among the last of a dying breed of sweet and old-fashioned enotece – a bottle shop meets wine tavern – with wooden barrels on display and kitsch bunches of plastic grapes hanging in the entrance. Florentines of all ages have a deep affinity for places like Sosta e Papi, where you’ll find deeply affordable Chianti Classico sold at near cost price by the litre. Fill your glass and sit in with a platter of coccoli, stracchino, and prosciutto, or fill up your own glass bottles to take home.
What to drink: A few glasses of the house wine
Borgo la Croce 81r. sostadeipapi.it
Despite having front row views onto the Ponte Vecchio and a range of over 1,500 bottles for sale, this Italian wine chain keeps its prices very accessible: €6 for a Spritz, served with a dainty aperitivo platter of olives, bread and prosciutto crudo. As well as being a great spot for a pre-dinner drink, they also serve giant taglieri – wooden boards laden with charcuterie and gooey burrata – for something more substantial.
What to drink: A glass of Chianti Classico
Dei Bardi 46r; signorvino.com/it/negozi/toscana/firenze
For aperitivi and people-watching with a difference, head to Caffè Cibrèo’s swanky new bar, lined with pot plants and vintage striped banquettes, at the Helvetia & Bristol, one of Florence’s most historic hotels. The freshly made Peach Bellini or a Rossini made with crushed strawberries and Prosecco (the latter only on the menu in spring and summer months) are to die for. Snacks include artisanal sourdough dunked in a Greek-inspired skordalia dip made from almonds and olive oil.
What to drink: The Peach Bellini
Via dei Pescioni, 8r; cibreo.com
This might just be the most civilised aperitivo hour you’ll come across, especially in the colder months, when you can sit among Florentine old-timers in their fur coats and hats and watch the world go by. Come for the elegant art-deco interiors and impressive Antinori wine list; stay for the bitesize truffle buns – a delightful start to any evening. Tourists in trainers or T-shirts will definitely be looked down upon here, but there’s nowhere quite like it.
What to drink: A glass of Marchesi Antinori wine with a truffle bun – they have a 2016 Tignanello on the list, if you really want to push the boat out.
Via Tornabuoni, 64r; procacci1885.it/en/florence.html