Nightlife in Milan: where to party

by melissa.shales

Milan has plenty of places to party, from huge rave clubs to tiny backstreet bars and chic, sleek cocktail lounges. Fashion moves fast here, with the in-crowd following word-of-mouth recommendations.

Aperitivo

Nightlife starts early in Milan. Happy hour kicks off officially at six and by seven, the party is in full swing. This isn’t just a quick pre-dinner drink – the aperitivo, which lasts until about 9.30pm, is probably the single most important social event of the evening. This is the where social butterflies can mix and mingle, where models can pretend to eat and where a riotous social life starts early enough to ensure that people can still get to photo shoots or the office at dawn. The band strikes up, the DJ spins his disks, the conversation and the diamonds sparkle.

Drinks of choice? Prosecco (Italian fizz) is always a good option – and starting point. If you are looking for popular local cocktails, two firm local favourites are the negroni sbagliato (prosecco, red vermouth and Aperol) or a Spritz (prosecco, a dash of Campari, Aperol or some other bitter and sparkling mineral water, topped off with an olive or a slice or orange). Drinks are generally not cheap, at up to eight euros a time. However, this can be a perfectly good way to have dinner. The nibbles that go with the aperitivo range from olives and nuts, cold meats and cheese to a groaning buffet of pastas and salads that will happily keep you grazing and feed you for the evening.

There is a huge choice of places offering an aperitivo, from upmarket hotels such as the Bulgari, Carlton Baglioni (The Terrace), and Principe di Savoia to edgier boutique hotels such as The Gray and Hotel Straf (see Milan Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Milan for more details on these venues). Then there are the designer bars such as Dolce & Gabbana Gold, 10 Corso Como, Armani Privé (31 Via Manzoni; 02 6231 2655; http://armaninobu.it) and dedicated bars such as Trattoria Toscana (see Milan Cafés and Restaurants for contact details for the three bars).

If you want to go back to the beginning, the lavish Art-Nouveau Zucca in Galleria (Piazza del Duomo 21, on the corner of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II; 02 8646 4435) is where that most Italian of drinks, Campari, was first created in 1860.

In spite of its name, Nottingham Forest (Viale Piave 1, 20129; 02 798 311; www.nottingham-forest.com) has nothing to do with England but is lavish Italian design at its most extravagant, with a nod to Africa, the Caribbean and the Orient. It has been voted the best bar in the world. For something more laid back, Cape Town (3 Via Vigevano, 20144; 39 02 8940 3053) is the local South African bar.

Where to dance

Once the cocktail hour is over, some places morph into restaurants for formal dining, and still later, turn into dance clubs. The late-night dance scene really gets going from around 10.30pm and keeps going until around 4am, with a wide range of place from grungy student dives in Ticinese through to hugely expensive clubs fiercely protected by giant bouncers, where stick thin models and ageing Italian politicians can cosy up in comfort away from the paparazzi.

Rolling Stone (Corso XXII Marzo 32; 02 733 172.; www.rollingstone.it) is probably Milan’s most famous club - a dance club at weekends, the city’s home of live rock during the week.

Other serious dance venues include restored industrial warehouse Magazzini Generali (Via Pietrasanta 14; 02 5521 1313) and the vast Discoteca Alcatraz (Via Valtellina 25; 02 6901 6352; www.alcatrazmilano.com). Gasoline (11a Via Bonnet, 20154; 0339 774 5797; www.discogasoline.it) is far smaller, but still open to all, with a famous Thursday Popstarz night.

Moving up the social scale, Il Gattopardo Café (Via Piero della Francesca 47; 02 3453 7699;
 www.ilgattopardocafe.it) is a deconsecrated church filled with fashionably beautiful folk. Café Atlantique (42 Viale Umbria; 02 5519 3925; www.cafeatlantique.it) is D&G’s contribution to the dance scene, with house music, designer baroque style and and uber-cool clientele. 


Probably the glitziest club in the city is Just Cavalli Hollywood (Via L. Camoens at the Torre Branca; 02 311 817; www.discotecahollywood.it) with a fabulous location and plenty of A-listers, but also perhaps a few too many elderly Italian playboys for comfort.

Bars

If you just want a drink without all the fuss, the best areas to try are the Brera and Navigli districts where there are plenty of lively small unpretentious cafés and bars with a good atmosphere and reasonable prices (by Milan standards). The Ticinese district is also coming up fast.

In Brera, try Bar Jamaica (Via Brera 32; 02 8909 8057; www.jamaicabar.it), supposedly once Mussolini’s favoured drinking spot, or Le Barrique Wine Bar (Via Anfiteatro, 12; 02 8050 9260).

In Navigli, head for waterfront Birreria La Fontanella (Alzaia Naviglio Pavese 6; 02 837 2391) or El Brellin (Vicolo dei Lavandai, Alzaia NaviglioGrande 14, 20144; 02 5810 1351; www.brellin.com) - a converted drugstore that is now an atmospheric café/bar and restaurant. Other options include the Australian-owned Kookabar (Piazzale Libia 3, 20135; 02 541 22507) and Cadenhead’s Whisky Bar (Via Poliziano 3; 02 3360 5592; www.cadenhead.it).

More nightlife

Visit my overview on Milan nightlife or read my other guide: Nightlife in Milan: opera and the performing arts.

Where to stay

For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Milan, see Milan Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Milan.

melissa.shales

 A freelance travel writer, editor and photographer, I have made my living for longer than I care to admit writing and editing articles, magazines, guidebooks and, increasingly websites on travel. Brought up in Zimbabwe, I made my very first trip to Italy when I was eight. We travelled on a rock bottom budget for three weeks and all I remember of Milan at the time was the milk bottle ad flashing outside our hotel window. Venice didn't fare much better - highlight there was the family of stray kittens living on the roof outside our hotel window (until they ate our picnic supper). Then I grew up and discovered the real delights of these extraordinary cities...

Now I live in London (another extraordinary city) and am fortunate enough to be able to travel the world for a living. It's about one part travel to eight parts sitting in front of a computer at home, but I get to see fabulous places and do wonderful things (usually at high speed) and call it work. Along the way, I started in travel as editor of Traveller magazine and have edited various other small magazines and websites. I have written about 30 guidebooks for companies including the AA, Thomas Cook, Insight, DK, Berlitz, Michelin, Globetrotter, Fodors and Frommer, winning three Best Guidebook Awards along the way. Destinations have included places from India to Barbados, France, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Turkey, returning repeatedly to Italy, one of the great love affairs of my life.  I have edited over 100 other guides.

Currently, in addition to being the Simonseeks Milan expert, I am the South Africa travel correspondent for About.com and have just stood down after a hectic two years as Chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers (www.bgtw.org). In 2009, I was awarded a Winston Church Travelling Fellowship (www.wcmt.org.uk) which allowed me to research a project I had long wanted to write, on the history of the railways in Africa. I am currently writing the book. The website and blog is www.steel-safari.co.uk. In November, I was named the British Guild of Travel Writers Best Online Travel Writer 2010.

My Milan

I really got to know Milan for the first time a few years ago while researching the Insight Guide to the Italian Lakes. Often overlooked in favour of more obviously beautiful cities, I loved its combination of edgy modernity and traditional conservatism, mixing high fashion, Mama and Papa's pizzeria and heavy industry in one heady cocktail. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

For unexpected views: the roof of the Duomo, walk amidst the Gothic spires and gargoyles.

For a song in the soul: La Scala, one of the world's greatest opera houses.

For sheer lunacy: window-shopping in the Quadrilatero d'Oro. No normal person could afford (or fit into) many of the designer creations but the windows are super-cool.

For caffè with style: Café Design at La Triennale, the design museum in Parco Sempione. Every cup and chair is different and a design classic, with park views.

Homage to the Maestro: It would be impossible to visit the city – at least the first time – without glorying in one of the greatest paintings ever created, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.