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.
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.
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.
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.
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.