I don’t know when Bar Basso last had some work done, but its flock wallpaper, tinkly chandeliers and plasterwork the colour of bad foundation suggests this Milanese institution last had a refresh circa 1950. If it does look like the inside of a granny’s powder compact, it doesn’t seem to bother visitors to Milan’s annual furniture fair, the Salone del Mobile (currently in full swing), who come here year after year to sip aperitivi and gossip on the streets outside.
When Bar Basso’s not playing host to the design community, it’s busy living up to its reputation as the home of the Negroni Sbagliato (“bungled Negroni”), one of the great classics in the cocktail canon. One story goes that this bittersweet aperitivo was created when one of the bartenders accidentally mixed a Negroni with prosecco instead of gin – but the bar’s owner insists this is apocryphal. Either way, there’s no disputing the fantastic-ness of the drink, which tastes like a more grown-up version of the Aperol spritz. To mix a Negroni Sbagliato for yourself, simply fill a capacious glass with lots of ice, add 25ml Campari and 25ml Martini Rosso, top up with 75ml of prosecco, add a slice of orange and serve.
Bar Basso’s links with the design world are not actually that surprising when you consider how closely intertwined Italian drinks and designers have been throughout history. Campari, in particular, created some wonderfully dynamic advertising in the 1920s and ’30s in collaboration with Fortunato Depero, the futurist artist and designer responsible for the cuneate Campari Soda bottle that you can find in Italian delis to this day.
The futurists even had a mini-cocktail movement of their own in the 1930s, which is lovingly documented in the limited edition Futurist Mixology by Fulvio Piccinino (Cocchi Books). The results, it would be fair to say, were mixed – I’ve yet to recover from the sight of the Il Rigeneratore, a cocktail garnished, suggestively, with a whole banana.
At Lacerba, a great little bar in Milan’s hip Porta Romana district, you won’t find many bananas, but you will find a lot of futurist art. Every wall of this slightly weathered drinking den bristles with Depero prints and designs. True to the spirit of futurist mixology, which was all about celebrating Italian drinks, it also offers a vast selection of vermouths, bitters and aperitivi, mixed in a range of excellent cocktails.
Sprawled on one of Lacerba’s low-slung sofas, surrounded by the chatter of the arty clientele, you could almost convince yourself you were just a guest at a really cool house party, rather than a paying customer in a bar. A feat of design that only the best bars ever manage to pull off.