10 Corso Como Café
When you need a break from the cutting-edge fashion at Milan’s first glamorous lifestyle shop, 10 Corso Como, stroll across the small courtyard to 10 Corso Como Café. Over lunch recently, sparrows flitted from table to table in a setting of mostly black-and-white furniture and linens, making the atmosphere feel like one out of an art film commissioned by Miuccia Prada. The guests tended to eat like birds as well—a colorful selection of crudités was delivered to every table, and the organic salad and pasta dishes were delicious but served in very small portions. The best time to come is around 6 p.m. for the aperitivi scene. You can also stay here at the upscale bed and breakfast, 3 Rooms.
Even if you are not staying at the Armani Hotel, a drink at its serene Bamboo Bar on the seventh floor is a must. The soaring space is dominated by the onyx-back bar, the ambience is hushed and the views of Milan are expansive (from a few of the low-set tables, you can even see the Duomo). Come for an apéritif to sample some of the chef's small-plate food or make a night of it and transfer into the Armani restaurant, rewarded with a Michelin star in 2015.
The restaurant/bar at the Fondazione Prada was conceived by film director Wes Anderson and the warmth and whimsy it adds to the Rem Koolhaas–designed foundation is a strike of genius. Diners sit at color-blocked Formica tables surrounded by cheerful wallpaper and a long bar that holds everything from anti-pasta platters and Panini to large glass jugs filled with colorful candy and tiramisu served in dainty dishes. There's even a jukebox and a Life Aquatic pinball machine. Bar Luce is a good spot for a panino before or after touring the Fondazione. In the early evening, Bar Luce gets packed with a hipster-cool apero crowd.
Camparino (a.k.a Zucca or Caffé Miani)
Just as Paris has Café de Flore and Venice has Florian, Milan also has its classic café. Located in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and historically a favorite watering hole of Verdi and Toscanini, this spot is a Milanese classic that is part café and part museum. Opened in 1867 at the time of the Galleria’s inauguration and known until recently as Zucca or Caffé Miani, Camparino (now in partnership with the Campari brand) boasts historic interiors with wonderful mosaics and antique cabinets. Among its claims to fame: King Umberto the First declared that it served the city’s best coffee, and many still concur with his pronouncement. The best tables are outside but don’t miss a peek at the interiors.
Sitting on top of the massive headquarters of fashion house Dsquared2, Ceresio 7 is one of the coolest places for an apéritif. The cool but cozy dining room and lounge was designed by cutting-edge Dimore Studio and draws a crowd of fashion and design people nightly. In the warm months, the rooftop terrace is unbeatable: cabana-style sitting nooks frame a large pool and the views are expansive. Starting at 7pm, the innovative cocktails are served with an array of fanciful snacks which are so beautifully prepared and plentiful (think salmon tartare, freshly sliced mortadella and lamb sliders) that they might even serve as substitutes for dinner.
When Pisacco opened in 2013, it launched a veritable Milanese food revolution of smaller, hip eateries that blurred the lines between bar/aperitif and restaurant/dinner. Dry, located across the street, is the brainchild of the same owners and its genius blend of cocktail bar-meets-pizza joint remains a huge hit. There are devotees who consider this the best pizza in Milan.
The menu is small and mostly focused on delicious pizzas and focaccio, alongside some small-plate appetizers and salads. The cocktail list is substantial and runs the gamut from the classics (a mean Negroni or Martinez) to the esoteric (like the Lord Byron, a lethal concoction of Campari, bourbon, dry vermouth and a Benedictine herbal liquor). The room up front is where the action is, but it becomes a bit of a scene as the evening wears on, so travelers who want to enjoy a more peaceful dinner can also reserve a table in the serene dining room in the back.
Fioraio Bianchi Caffè
The best spot to pass a few hours drinking espresso and reading art magazines is the Fioraio Bianchi Caffè, in the upscale neighborhood of Brera. One of several nice café’s on a leafy square this former flower shop still showcases fragrant blooms on almost every surface. By day it offers a selection of pastries and vegetarian dishes, and in the evening it’s a lively and happening aperitivi destination.
Baby sister of the famed Da Giacomo restaurant next door, Giacomo Bistrot is one of the few good restaurants open all day seven days a week from noon to midnight. Enter the old-fashioned bar with its massive mirrors, brass chandeliers and tiled floors and you may feel that you have entered a time machine and traveled back to a more elegant era, but the crowd that fills the cozy dining rooms of Giacomo Bistrot is thoroughly modern. Whether you sit in the library room with its walls of bookshelves or the private wine room, you will eat exquisite Italian food and be surrounded by Milan’s most fashionable crowd.
N’Ombra de Vin
Located in the old refectory of the Saint Mark’s Church, this Milan institution is open all day and is a respite from the busy nearby shopping street of Via Solferino.
The area around Milan's Naviglio Grande, the city's oldest canal that was restored in time for the 2015 Expo, has been a hotbed for a burgeoning restaurant and especially bar scene. During the day, the area remains a bit run-down and nothing special, but at night seemingly every crawl space transforms into makeshift places for a young, hip crowd to mingle.
Best for apéritifs, including cocktails and ample food buffets, are: Mag Cafe (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 43), Rebelot del Pont (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55) and Rita (Via Angelo Fumagalli 1). Note that all of these are extremely casual, cool and often draw large crowds of students and young Milanese, so it's a bit like going out in New York's Lower East Side.
Housed on the sixth and seventh floors of the Tower at the Fondazione Prada, this restaurant serves authentic Italian cuisine, alongside local and international wines, in a Rem Koolhaas-designed space featuring a chic modern ambiance and a curated selection of contemporary artwork on display. Diners also enjoy expansive views of Milan through the floor-to-ceiling windows and from the triangular outdoor terrace.
A Milanese institution since 1937 with outposts in New York and the Hamptons, Sant’ Ambroeus has loyalists who swear that it serves the best coffee and pastries in the country.