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As Florentines tend to eat slightly later than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, locals like to start their evenings with an "aperitivo", an aperitif, which is really just an excuse to get together, have a drink or two and meet new people, all in the name of good digestion. The idea of an aperitif is to work up your appetite by drinking the right cocktail that will stimulate the gastric juices and get you prepared for that Bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine steak) you're planning on eating at dinner. After dinner, of course, it is entirely appropriate, if not obligatory to then take a "digestivo", a digestif, as well.
The idea of the aperitif was already widely diffused in major Italian cities in the 1800s, but the idea started in Torino with the invention of Vermouth, still one of the most popular ingredients in a traditional aperitivo cocktail.
It has become more and more popular for bars to serve a buffet of free food along with the set price of your aperitif, usually from around 7pm-9pm. This can range from simple nuts and chips to a smorgasbord of pasta, rice, cold cuts, vegetables and finger foods.
Some appropriate and traditional aperitifs to try while you're here would include: a Prosecco (sparkling wine), a Spritz (borrowed from the Venetians, campari or aperol, sparkling wine, topped with soda), a Negroni (gin, vermouth, bitter campari on ice, a Florentine favourite), an Americano (similar to a negroni, made with campari, vermouth and soda water), or a simple glass of wine.
If you want to join in the fun without drinking alcohol, ask for a non-alcoholic cocktail, aperitivo analcolico, and let them shake up a mixture of fresh juice for you, or a pomodoro condito, a Virgin Mary (spiced tomato juice) is also very popular.
Vermouth is a drink made from wine infused with herbs and spices, an aromatic or fortified wine, a good deal stronger than table wines. Usually, white vermouths are dry and bitter and the red are sweet. They are mostly used in mixed drinks although they can be enjoyed straight. White dry vermouth is popular in Italy with gin as a Martini cocktail and the sweeter red one forms part of an Americano or a Negroni.
Campari is a slightly bitter, alcoholic infusion of herbs and fruit and is popular mixed simply with soda or fresh orange juice, while Aperol is similar but has a lower alcohol level and is sweeter.
Here are a few of our favourite aperitivo spots, read more about them in the Florence Cafes & Bars section:
- Giacosa Cafe, just off via Tornabuoni - the original spot where the negroni cocktail was first invented, now a stylish cafe/bar connected to the Roberto Cavalli store, obviously a favourite for fashionistas.
- Paszkowski, a historic cafe in Piazza Repubblica where the smartly dressed waiters will whip you a great Americano - a great place if you do not actually want to ruin your appetite, as they just serve nuts with their drinks.
- Fusion bar, set in the stylish Hotel Gallery Art just a stone's throw from the Ponte Vecchio, this is probably the favourite for the exotic nibbles they bring you together with your drink. They do a fantastic rosemary-infused version of the Negroni.
- Open Bar, on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio in via Bardi, with a view of the river and a creative list of cocktails, this place is unbeatable for a memorable aperitivo.