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Happy hour is an integral part of Italian life.

But our favourite early-evening event doesn’t involve two-for-one cocktails or cut-price pitchers, because there’s another, distinctly Italian version of happy hour to enjoy.

We call it aperitivo.

Origins of aperitivo

The name ‘aperitivo’ means ‘to open’ and comes from the intention of preparing (or ‘opening up’) our palates before dinner. Beers and bitter cocktails have become firm aperitivo favourites, all because they’re best for whetting the appetite.

But drinks are only part of the aperitivo experience; socialising and eating are also at its heart. Our bars traditionally give out complimentary bowls of smoked nuts or marinated olives, thereby staving off any pre-dinner hunger pangs and allowing us more time with family and friends.

Evolution of aperitivo

Today, a wine ‘spritz’ or a glass of Menabrea remain the drinks of choice. However, the variety of food on offer has grown both bigger and better.

Our name for the ‘happy hour’ has grown too, with apericena perfectly capturing a new combination of ‘aperitivo’ and ‘cena’ (dinner).

In Northern Italy especially, many bars now offer generous buffets of delicious dishes, from which you can help yourself.

Yet despite the greater variety, food is usually still included in the price of your drink - a fact that attracts crowds of young people looking for an easy and relaxed evening with friends. As a result, even the trendiest bars now offer an aperitivo of sorts. You can drop into Milan’s Bar Frieda any night of the week to find crowds of young Milanese socialites enjoying one of the city’s best apericena experiences.

That’s not to say that the small plates have disappeared altogether. In über-trendy Milanese bar, 10 Corso Como, drinks are still served alongside bowls of olives and roasted nuts. Here, the simplicity of the traditional aperitivo is perfect for leaving visitors’ attentions free to take in the stunning surroundings.

Ardent traditionalists lament that the traditional aperitivo has become harder to find, but most feel that the evolution of the ritual isn’t all bad. After all, apericena attracts our younger generations.

Which keeps our happy hour – or at least our newest form of it – alive and well.

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