31 Via Manzoni
Tel: 39 02 6231 2655
Although Giorgio's very own nightclub has lost some of the exclusive cachet it had when it opened in 2003, it's still worth a spin, particularly if you're keen to check out the new frontiers of plastic surgery or learn a bit of colloquial Russian. It no longer has an invitation-only policy (they stopped that after too many empty nights), but the velvet-rope screening is still pretty vicious: Unless you're very well connected, the best way to get in is book a latish dinner at the Armani/Nobu restaurant upstairs and come down after your miso black cod. Once in, the subdued Japanese decor may come as a disappointment, but this is Armani, after all, not Versace—and the vibe is very much "sitting around looking beautiful" rather than "dancing on the tables." Drinks are punishingly priced, and securing a private table for a group of friends will set you back around 200 euros ($274).
Open from 10.30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Open seasonally from September to late April.
26-28 Piazza del Fico
Tel: 39 06 686 5205
At any time on a balmy evening you'll have your work cut out to beat the fashionistas competing for tables beneath the ancient fig tree that gives its name to this square and its French bistro-style bar. Along with the Bar della Pace just around the corner, this has been the place for the smart set for decades.
Open daily 8:30 am to 2 am.
3-7 Via della Pace
Tel: 39 06 686 1216
Dark wooden fittings and huge vases of flowers give the interior of this eternally trendy bar the feel of a welcoming private club, but the beautiful people who flock here (and their spotters) rarely go through the door, preferring to bag a table beneath the ivy-clad facade. It's a pricey pleasureyou pay over the odds for this kind of ringside seatbut if you want to sport your designer duds and shades in the coolest of company, this is where to do it.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Tel: 39 02 8646 4435
Though there are other bars (and even—the horror, the horror—a McDonald's) inside Milan's glorious Belle Époque shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, this historic aperitivo stop is the original, and still the best. Now listed as a historic monument, the bar has been here ever since the arcade itself opened in 1867, and in its early days it attracted such luminaries as Verdi and Toscanini. The famous entrance sign promoting Zucca, a rhubarb-based amaro liqueur, gives the bar the unofficial name by which most locals refer to it. The glorious Art Nouveau decor continues inside, with an inlaid wooden bar created by a celebrated Milanese cabinetmaker, cast-iron chandeliers, and lush botanical mosaics by Liberty-era artist Angelo d'Andrea. Order a Campari scecherato—a Campari soda roughed up in a cocktail shaker with ice and lemon; for real Milanese kudos, develop a taste for Zucca itself, which is currently trying to change its image from grandmotherly digestivo to smart young aperitivo.
Closed Monday. Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
3 Via Vigevano
Tel: 39 02 8940 3053
Looking for the buzz without the pose? This unpretentious bar midway between Porta Genova and Porta Ticinese is the answer. Frequented by creative types rather than fashion clones, Cape Town exudes a genuine, friendly party atmosphere. Join the fray, grab a glass of wine or a cocktail (they do a mean Mojito), graze on the regularly topped-up aperitivo buffet, and comb the room for clues to the South African connection (the oval ball on a shelf behind the bar is a good start).
Open daily 7 am to 2 am.
8 Piazza del Carmine
Tel: 39 055 211 650
Trust extravagant Florentine fashion designer Roberto Cavalli to open a nightclub in a deconsecrated church. Asia Argento deejayed and the Tuscan beau monde partied at the December 2008 launch party of Cavalli Club, which occupies a former Anglican house of worship next door to the Brancacci Chapel. Inside, there's a stage (for a mixing desk or live music) where the altar used to be, and a sinuous gold-fronted bar snaking down the nave between the mirrored floor and ceiling; it's all a bit like Alien meets Saturday Night Fever. Upstairs is a 50-seat restaurant where the luxe-Tuscan menu plays second fiddle to the chiseled waiters and waitresses and huddles of leopard-print chairs.
Opens nightly at 7 pm.
1 Via Cusani
Tel: 39 02 8056 857
Landlocked Milan is famous for its fishmongers—and Da Claudio is widely considered to be the best in town. Recently, though, it has also become an in-crowd stop on the city's aperitivo circuit, offering generous sashimi-style platters of raw fish—salmon, shellfish, oysters, scampi, and, occasionally, lobsters—with simple salads, plus one or two cooked delicacies. The choice of wine is limited to one fairly decent sparkling Prosecco, offered free with one's chosen dish—which can vary in price from €8.50 ($11) to €23 ($30). There are no tables—you simply munch and swill standing up at the fish counter. Though aperitivo time is when things get busy, the snack-and-wine service is available all day long. In November 2010 Da Claudio inaugurated a full-scale seafood restaurant on the first floor, under the tutelage of talented young Veneto chef Paolo Casanova.
Open Mondays 11 am to 8 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 9 pm.
6/r Piazza del Carmine
Tel: 39 055 284 595
The past five years have seen a steady increase in the number of trendy new bars in Florence, but Dolce Vita in the Oltrarno is one of the city's classic hangouts for night owls, and is still going strong. In winter, the best place to sit is the cozy salon, while in warmer weather, the huge terrace built into the central medieval square fills up with a see-and-be-seen crowd of cool regulars. Some move on to the clubs, while others dig in for the night right here.
Closed Mondays in winter.
64 Via di Monte Testaccio
Tel: 39 06 4544 7627
So '60s Space Age is this stunningly white club that you might not even notice that you're in a cavern dug into a heap of ancient amphora shards. But that's what Monte Testaccio is. There's nothing ancient about the music, which ranges from electronica to hip-hop and R&B, with visits from big-name DJs. There's a garden too, but as Fake closes from June to September, there's little chance to appreciate it.
Open Wed, Thur 11:30 p.m.–4 a.m.; Fri, Sat midnight–4 a.m.; Sun 7 p.m.–2 a.m.
4-6 Via Politeama
Tel: 39 06 5833 4210
In a former mechanic's workshop on the river bank in Trastevere, "Brakes and Clutches" starts heating up soon after opening time (6 pm), when peckish locals descend on a table groaning with free aperitivo nibbles. Its denizens are young and boho-chic, the ambience laid-back and friendly. When the bar gets too crowded, the little square outside becomes an extension of the venue.
Open daily 6 pm to 2 am.
11a Via Bonnet
Tel: 39 339 774 5797
When you've had it up to here with the fashion crowd, head for Gasoline, a small but peppy club near Corso Como that celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2006. This is one of the few clubs in central Milan where the ability to have a good time counts for more than who you are or what you're wearing. Gasoline is most famous for its Thursday Popstarz night, when an eclectic mix of disco, Britpop, and electronica is served up to a variegated gay and straight crowd; Fridays and Saturdays are usually pretty lively, too. The door policy is democratic: as long as you don't look like a complete pirla (Milanese for "dork"), and sometimes even if you do, you'll get in by couging up the entrance fee ($15–$30 depending on the night), which includes a free drink.
Open seasonally (September through May). Open Thursday through Saturday from 11 p.m.
13 Via Libetta
Tel: 39 06 574 8277
When Leo and crew were in Rome to shoot Gangs of New York, they came to Goa postfilming to let off steam. The ethno-chic club in the down-at-heel-looking but definitely up-and-coming Ostiense district is still going strong. Housed in a huge garage, Goa draws some of the world's best DJs to mix hip-hop, house, and tribal sounds.
Open Tues–Sun 11 p.m.–5 a.m.
Sheraton Diana Majestic
42 Viale Piave
Tel: 39 02 205 8081
Every year, style mavens in town for fashion or furniture week agree that the famed garden bar of the Sheraton Diana Majestic hotel has become "impossible," and is "so last decade" (though in its present reincarnation, it only dates back to 2000). But chances are the stylish set will swing by at some point in the evening anyway, just in case there's someone there who hasn't heard the news—and also because designers often use the space to present their collections. The garden, with its fountains, classical statuary, and ever-changing themed decor, is a lovely spot for aperitivo-sipping in the warmer months. Inside, away from fashion show time, the updated Deco ambience and loud backbeat attract a clientele of local figli di papà (late-teens and twentysomethings whose lifestyle is underwritten by daddy) and semicelebrities. Observe them wryly from a perch at the bar, cradling an excellent (but not cheap) whiskey sour.
Closed in August.
Carlton Hotel Baglioni
7 Via Senato
Tel: 39 02 781 255
Tourists might be attracted by Milan's new fashion-brand bars, like the tiny Gucci terrace outside the label's miniboutique inside the Galleria, or Dolce & Gabbana's fussy '30s-Shanghai-meets-'80s–New York Martini Bar at the back of the duo's men's store in Corso Venezia. But when making aperitivo appointments in the fashion district, real insiders plump for this hidden jewel, tucked away on the ground floor of the otherwise undistinguished Hotel Baglioni. The trick is knowing that there is a back entrance to the hotel on the boutique drag of Via della Spiga: Just ring the bell at the end of the passageway at No. 6 to be buzzed in. The bar hasn't been here for long, but you wouldn't know that from the ultra-trad decor (wooden paneling, stylish tan armchairs, tartan carpet) and the equally lived-in waiters. Order a dry martini and slip into the Harry's Bar vibe.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
80/r Borgo degli Albizi
Tel: 39 055 200 1956
This cozy watering hole in the eastern reaches of the Santa Croce area pretty much defines the neighborhood's neo-boho vibe. It's open from mid-morning on and is a good place for a light lunch. But it really comes into its own around aperitivo time, when the colorful decor is matched by an equally colorful crowd of regulars. The barmen mix a mean mojito, while the DJ mixes an equally impressive soundtrack, which skews toward lounge and chill-out (Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays). Things usually wind down around 2.30 a.m.—except on Sunday, when everyone seems to be in bed before midnight.
3 Via Nuova de' Caccini
Tel: 39 055 247 9700
While not in any way on a par with the clubs of New York or London, this smoky dive without the smoking (which is now banned in Italy except at home or on the street) is the only venue in Florence where you can catch live jazz almost nightly. Located in the Santa Croce area, it features performers ranging from traditional bands to experimental combos, with plenty of blues, Latin, and progressive groups in between. Standards vary enormously. The club kicks off its week with a jam session each Tuesday and stays open through Saturday.
Closed July and August.
3 Vicolo dei Granari
Tel: 39 06 683 3312
You may have some trouble getting past the obnoxious doormen, which only enhances the pleasure and surprise if you're successful. Because, despite being the disco of choice for what looks like a very snooty crowd, La Maison plays great lounge and R&B music in a decidedly welcoming ambience of dark red walls and comfy sofas. It's very elegant; make sure you are too, or you'll never get in.
Open Tue–Thur, Sun 11 p.m.–3:30 a.m.; Fri, Sat midnight–5 a.m.
15 Campo de' Fiori
Tel: 39 06 6880 3268
Campo de' Fiori is one big drinking spot, but this wine bar was the first, and remains the best. While rowdy groups of visiting students pile into the other drinking holes, locals mix with visitors in La Vineria's bottle-lined interior or grab tables outside to watch the antics in this ever-bustling square. Perfectly acceptable wine starts at about $1.90 a glass. Pre-dinner, the clientele consists of busy locals grabbing a glass with friends on their way home from work; as the evening wears on, the scene gets slightly seedier but remains lively.
Open Mon–Sat 9 a.m.–2 a.m.
910/r Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Tel: 39 055 264 5282
Upstairs in this bar-restaurant attached to JK Place, the mood is contemporary retro; it feels like a cool private members' club, enlivened by huge mirrors and zebra-striped fabric. Downstairs, though, the scene changes completely in an all-white chill-out room that has something of the Moloko Plus bar from A Clockwork Orange—and it gets even weirder when the color-phasing lights turn the room pink, then green. Because of its fairly hidden nature, this evenings-only venue is a good option for a cocktail or after-dinner drink away from the crowds. If the pink glow gets too much, you can always move to the outside terrace on the recently pedestrianized piazza.
7A Via Pietro Micca
Tel: 39 06 8744 0079
Micca Club is in an immense underground space in a residential district not far from the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. The program is all-encompassing, ranging from themed nights (including toga parties, of course) to guest DJ visits. A vintage clothes and bric-a-brac market on Sunday evening gives way to jazz and other live acts later. You need to sign the online guest book in order to get in.
Open Thursdays through Saturdays 10 pm to 3 am; Sundays 6 pm to 3 am.
17/r Via dei Renai
Tel: 39 055 243 647
Named after the cocktail (a delicious but powerful mix of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari), which, legend has it, was invented in Florence, Negroni is a cool, contemporary bar in a picturesque part of the Oltrarno. The small but stylish interior hosts art and photography shows, and cocktail hour sees the arrival of a generous spread of goodies to help your aperitivo down. DJ sets (mainly chill-out) kick in later in the evening; Thursday's musical mix is accompanied by a wine tasting. The summer terrace is a particularly appealing spot on warm summer nights and much beloved by Florence's hip crowd.
Evenings only on Saturdays and Sundays.
12-14/r Lungarno Corsini
Tel: 39 055 210 751
Most evenings, crowds of convivial hipsters spill out of the door of this trendy cocktail bar and nightspot on the north bank of the Arno. It's especially popular in summer, when you can take your martini across the road and perch on the wall to watch the rowers go by. It's open for lunch, too—gourmet panini and megasalads serving. But the place really comes into its own around aperitivo time, when a huge spread of complimentary nibbles is laid out on a table. Later on, DJs pump up the sound level and a clubby atmosphere kicks in. The particular brand of hip practiced here is more friendly than forbidding, and decidedly upmarket.
6 Via degli Specchi
Tel: 39 06 683 8989
You're only here for the beer—but it's no ordinary brew. This designer beer bar (please don't call it a pub) just off Via Arenula offers up to 40 selections on tap and more than 100 by the bottle. Many come from Italy's burgeoning army of small artisanal breweries, such as Piedmont's Baladin, which runs the place (try Baladin's Erika, flavored with heather honey). Downstairs is the lively main room, with its impressive "beer library"; upstairs, you'll find a series of more intimate rooms, with shabby chic armchairs and sofas for lounging. Dining options consist of fancy comfort food: licorice potato chips (oddly delicious), organic beef hamburgers, fresh mozzarella, and Piedmontese beef tartare. Service is friendly but on the slow side.
Open daily noon to 2 am.
14 Piazza del Carmine
Tel: 39 055 287 347
This large warehouselike auditorium in the Oltrarno is principally used by Musicus Concentus to host its excellent season of jazz concerts. The program runs throughout the year (usually transferring to an outdoor venue in summer) and showcases some of the great names of the contemporary jazz scene, both international and Italian. This is by far the best place in town to hear good progressive sounds.
42 Piazza di Pietra
Tel: 39 06 678 5804
A growing Roman craze for book bars started here, in this elegant space right off Via del Corso. Select one of the glossy art books from the shelves and peruse it in a deep sofa or armchair while consuming nibbles from the early-evening buffet. The cool factor cranks up when the nighttime cocktail crowd arrives—as does the ambient soundtrack, sometimes deafeningly so.
Open Tue–Sat 10 a.m.–2 a.m.; Sun 10 a.m.–midnight.
63r Via Porta Rossa
Tel: 39 055 264 5354
Slowly is conveniently situated, just north of the Ponte Vecchio, for coffee or a light lunch. However, it really gets to strut its stuff at night, when the action kicks in and the sleek set arrive for cocktails and snacks. It's best in winter when the cozy seating, warm North-African-meets-chic-Italy decor, and mellow sounds from in-house DJs B. Wolant and Finella (who spin jazz early evening and hip-hop and R&B at night) and a series of visiting spin-meisters make a perfect backdrop for a drink.
17 Piazza Montevecchio
Tel: 39 06 6830 1472
It's no easy task finding this bar in a tiny square off Via dei Coronari. You'll know when you do, though: Piazza Montevecchio is an extension of the place, and the alternative, artsy crowd spills out across the square (much to the annoyance of neighbors, who have been known to throw water over rowdy revelers). Well-mixed cocktails, a small but good selection of wines by the glass, a large aperitivo buffet, and a decidedly relaxed vibe make this a great place to kill a couple of hours.
Open daily 6 p.m.2 a.m.
46 Via Pratese
Tel: 39 055 308 160
It may have been around for a quarter of a century, but industrial-chic Tenax, an edge-of-town venue near the airport, is still by far the most influential and international of the Florentine clubs. As a live music venue it has hosted just about everybody over the years, from Spandau Ballet to the Asian Dub Foundation. These days, though, it's most famous as a dance club that flies in big-name DJs from London, Berlin, Ibiza, and Miami for guest appearances. The weekly Nobody's Perfect parties are the hottest place to be on a Saturday night in Florence.
Closed mid-May to September. Open Thursday through Saturday.
77/r Via Pisana
Tel: 39 055 221 122
Housed in a stylishly converted cinema building, the Universale is located just out of the center of town in the Oltrarno district. A big, flashy, multipurpose entertainment venue done out in an eclectic, retro style, it centers on a huge oval bar and a sweeping double staircase that wouldn't look out of place on an ocean liner. Downstairs, there's a giant video screen and club area, while diners at one of the two restaurants on the upper level can watch the action from the tables on the balustrade. Universale attracts a more figlio di papà (spoiled rich kid) crowd than its main rival Tenax, which is for hard-line clubbers of all persuasions and income brackets.
Closed June to September, Wednesday through Sunday.
With its large student population and reputation as a creative powerhouse and new media hub, Bologna supports a thriving bar scene. Irish pubs and low-cost drinking dens cluster in the heart of the university district around Via Zamboni, Via San Vitale, and Via delle Belle Arti; for something a little more refined, head for Cantina Bentivoglio, a huge, lively wine bar that also doubles as a restaurant (with a menu very much in the Bolognese tradition of tortellini and big slabs of meat) and high-quality live jazz venue. In the last few years, urban hipsters have set up court in Via dei Musei, a short, partly covered street near Piazza Maggiore. Here, two trendy bars compete for trade: the Nu Lounge, with its dark wood minimalism and postmodern cocktails (try, if you dare, the "nu flava"Amaretto di Saronno, red wine, and ginger ale); and playful, neo-Baroque Cafè le Palais, an offshoot of fashion concept store L'Inde le Palais, which it faces across the alleyway. Of the city's serious wine bars, perhaps the best is the Enoteca Italiana, an encyclopedic wine shop just off Via Indipendenza that fills up around aperitivo time with lovers of the grape stopping off on their way home for a quick glass of, say, Pieropan soave or Tre Monti sangioveseaccompanied by a plate of thinly sliced mortadella or some hunks of seasoned Parmesan.
13/r Via Dei Renai
Tel: 39 055 243 111
Zoe is a modern bar-caffè with a big following on a quiet piazza in the Oltrarno, just along from Negroni. There's a simple menu at lunch with interesting sandwiches (such as smoky, prosciutto-like speck and cheese) plus pasta, salads, and carpaccio. At "cocktail hour" (actually from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.), a lively crowd fills the place and spills out onto the piazza, where there are tables for dining and hanging out. In the late evenings, Zoe is packed with young Florentines talking loudly over ethno-ambient music. It also draws in plenty of foreign students, who are attracted more by the free Wi-Fi than by the regular contemporary art and photography exhibitions.