Historic Cafés in Milan: 5 bars to get into History
Among the many stories that Milan has to tell, one of the most intriguing is about its historic venues: bars that, since the beginning of the 19th century, have become meeting places of entire generations. So they’re not just spots where to have an happy hour or a coffee, where to taste sweet or savory delights, but actual exclusive clubs where people share feelings and experiences. The walls and counters of Milan historic cafés have heard millions of stories, kept company to many people, they have soothed and given pleasure to millions of different characters. Of course, there are other bars in the alleyways of Milan’s historical centre, which only those with an unlimited budget can visit every day, but even there a coffee and pastry are a pleasure for the spirit to many Milanese people. Tourists visiting Milan shouldn’t miss out on at least a couple of these historic venues. A pleasure right from the outside, with sweet shop windows always dressed to the nines.
Bar Magenta, an icon for the “Milano da Bere” community
Bar Magenta, is a place frequented by a diverse clientele, from Milanese aristocratic Lords to young university students, from left-wing and right-wing revolutionaries to famous rather than unknown artists, from flirty managers to middle-class Dandies. “Going to Magenta’s” is a cult, but it’s also daily practice, a little snob, but also pretty natural. Bar Magenta is one of Milan’s historic venues not only because it’s so old, but also because the history of the city has crossed it through. Remained unchanged throughout its existence, situated on the corner of Via Carducci and Corso Magenta, with its Art deco-style furniture and the circular counter with pewter and silver reliefs, this has always been one of the most famous, popular, must-clubs in Milan. Bar Magenta is an icon of the city, just as the Duomo and Castello Sforzesco. Generations of people have tasted its famous sandwiches and taken refuge in times of trouble and joy, anger and passion.
Gin Rosa, personalized drinks
Bar & Pastry Shop Gin Rosa is a good example of the saying: “Men come and go, but their ideas remain, and keep on walking on the legs of other men.” Indeed, the premises are located within Galleria San Babila since 1860, but over time owners have changed several times. Born as Bottiglieria del Leone, it becomes Caffè Canetta by the name of the subsequent owner, the one who invented the first aperitif of the house, Costumè Canetta, a sweet drink made from Absinthe – distilled wormwood flowers. At the beginning of 1900, the new owner, Luigi Donini, personalizes the drink by adding Bitter, thus creating Mistura Donini, but also changes the venue’s look: not just a meeting place for the Milanese aristocracy, but rather, a place suitable for the coming and going of busy customers. In 1950, the business was taken over by the Marangione Family who, to do no less than the others, invented the legendary Gin Rosa, which gave its name to the bar. Gin Rosa (Pink Gin) is a highly alcoholic cocktail-infusion made out of 32 ingredients (including herbs, berries and roots) to be drank on the rocks or further mixed to obtain other drinks such as Rosa alla Fragola, Spritz Rosa with Prosecco, the American Rosa with Vermouth and Angostura, Rosajto with orange, brown sugar and mint leaves, Rosa Colada with pineapple and coconut cream, etc. Since 1999, this place is managed by De Lucas’ Gin Rosa company. So now we are waiting for a new personalized aperitif.
Cafè Bistrot Savini, sit at the table with History
Dear tourist. When you sit at the tables of Cafè Bistrot Savini, within Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, go ahead and order your drink, but while you sip it, close your eyes and listen. If you focus your attention and let your thoughts go, you’ll hear the voice of Contemporary History, who usually sits here to enjoy a quiet moment. Because the worlds of arts, politics, literature, free thinking, vainglory and success, have all passed from this place. Forgive us, dear tourist, for this very partial list we are providing you with, but we want you to be aware of where you are. Puccini, Marinetti, Verdi, De Chirico, Callas, Agnelli, Chaplin, Sinatra, Hemingway, D’Annunzio, Luchino Visconti, Henry Ford, Ranieri and Grace di Monaco, Ava Gardner, Totò, Eugenio Montale. And we apologize for all the other Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, and Golden Bear Prize winners that we haven’t mentioned. The history of Savini began in 1867, at the time when it was the original Birreria Stocker. In 1881 it was taken over by Virgilio Savini, who in 1884, turns it into the stylish cafe-restaurant Savini, a meeting place for the beau monde on their way out from La Scala Theatre and Manzoni Theatre alike. It underwent just a few renovations until 2008, when the business was taken over by the Gatto family. Nowadays, Savini is a regular enterprise: it’s a gourmet restaurant on the first floor, a bistro on the ground floor, opening on the Galleria, and a food boutique on the lower floor, with hundreds of exclusive haute cuisine products branded by Savini. At the Café-Bistro you can also enjoy fast lunches of fine Italian specialties, both in the dining room decorated with marble, frescoes and stucco, or in the Dehor area overlooking Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
At Camparino, the best Campari cocktails
An Art Nouveau-style Masterpiece, with a counter by cabinetmaker Eugenio Quarti (who has crafted furniture for Palazzo Castiglioni in Milan and Hungaria Palace Hotel in Venice Lido alike), lovely wrought iron chandeliers by craftsman Alessandro Mazzucotelli (his are also the street lights in Piazza Duomo) and floral decorations by Angiolo D’Andrea (who also designed the mosaics at Villa Visconti di Modrone-Erba in Cernobbio), Caffè Camparino is one of the most famous and prestigious businesses in Piazza del Duomo, Milan. Opened in 1867 as a restaurant and wine bar by Gaspare Campari, in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele II, in 1915 it was renamed Bar Camparino, boasting an innovative beverage dispensing system: a plumbing system located in the basement ensured a continuous flow of chilled soda up to the counter. In the mid 20s, the club takes on the Art Nouveau style which we can still admire today. During that period, Guglielmo Miani, a tailor arrived in Milan from Puglia some 20 years earlier, took over the business, giving it the name Caffè Miani. In the early 1980s, Davide Campari-Milano company signs an agreement that authorizes the use of the sign ‘Camparino’. The agreement ceases to be in force in 1996, but fortunately it’s always difficult to prevail over tradition. Therefore, on January 3, 2012, after 16 years, the Camparino sign came back to the Café in full regalia. Ça va sans dire, the house specialty at Camparino’s are cocktails made with Campari, starting from the Americano (Campari, red Vermouth and soda served in Highball glasses with orange slice and lemon peel), and the Negroni (Campari, Cinzano Rosso and Gin, served in Rock glasses with orange slice) to a sophisticated Campari Orange Passion (1,1/4 parts Campari, 1 bar spoon brown sugar, 2 orange slices, and orange juice served in Juice glasses with cherry).
Bar Jamaica, a cafeteria for artists in the heart of Brera
One of Milan’s legendary Bars located in Via Brera 32. “We’re at Jamaica’s” has been said by many people over generations, and is still a daily sentence for a very heterogeneous group of people. Because if Jamaica was once the meeting place of painters and writers (like Tassinari, Treccani, Fontana, Ungaretti and Quasimodo etc.) nowadays it is frequented by students, workers, managers, professionals, deadbeats, tourists, and fashionistas who can all easily feel comfortable at “their” place. This eclectic twist is what makes Jamaica such a legend, and also the commitment of the Mainini family, who has run it for three generations. Elio Mainini had inherited the business from his father when he was 17, when it was called Ponte di Brera, but turned the name into Jamaica without thinking it twice. When Elio died, on February 16th, 2001, at the age of 71, the entire ‘Milano da Bere’ community went in mourning for him. One of the most famous anecdotes about Bar Jamaica reports that since 1921 Benito Mussolini used to sit at its tables to write articles for his newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia (“The People of Italy.”) One fine day, in 1922, he suddenly disappeared leaving a long unpaid bill. He was the first of many eminent debtors of the Bar. Another anecdote is about the founder Elio. It is said that many people have changed their artistic career path because of his harshness and sarcasm. Eventually ending up becoming Chairmen of the Board of Directors of important companies.