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.
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.
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).
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.