For cocktail connoisseurs and bon vivants dedicated to seeking out life’s best bar experiences, a visit to the Bel Paese is a must. Indeed, it’s not a question of whether to go to Italy, but of which drinkeries to include in a finite itinerary, in a land of infinite possibilities.
I say infinite, because Italy is the world capital of mixed drinks, with a long history of tipple culture dating back to the Roman Empire.
Back then, the upper class routinely took an evening gustatio, a nibble alongside sweet wine to stimulate their appetite before dinner.
This tradition found its way out of the palazzos of the Eternal City and into the cafés of Turin in the 1800s, when the pre-dinner drink became known as an aperitivo, with vermouth-based libations replacing the vino beloved by their Roman cousins.
Around the same time, cocktails were being invented in the newly formed United States. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but you might say that this caused such delightful chaos that by 1920 the country implemented full-blown Prohibition.
Some serious drink-slingers decided that the speakeasy life was not for them, and they packed their talents and went abroad.
While cocktails had been trickling into Italy prior to this – and indeed, the locals had been concocting their own creations – cocktail culture hit a crashing crescendo in Europe with this explosion of “American bars”.
Fast forward to today, and it’s this very intersection of modern cocktail joints and old-school aperitivo haunts – as well hotel bars and bistros – that attracts thirsting pilgrims from near and far. But how to choose where to go, with such abundance?
Enter the BlueBlazer Guide. Founded by cocktail maestro Giampiero Francesca in 2015, BlueBlazer is dedicated to showcasing the Italian bar scene.
Every year, Francesca and his team – along with other drinks experts – travel the length and breadth of Italy with the single-minded mission of determining the best.
Establishments that make the cut are included in the annual BlueBlazer Guide, an online and print resource for cocktail devotees.
The 2023 edition, unveiled at a gala ceremony in Milan last month, highlights some 320 of the country’s finest drinkeries, from metropoles to villages.
These are categorised by cocktail bar, bistro/restaurant bar, hotel bar and speakeasy – with excellence in hospitality being the common denominator.
Here are some of the more noteworthy BlueBlazer awards – worth adding to your next Italian bucket list:
Best Hotel Bar: Atrium Bar at Four Seasons Firenze, Florence
Tucked within the fresco-lined Four Seasons Florence, the Atrium Bar offers an elevated cocktail experience in the most breath-taking setting, under the watchful eye of bar manager Tommaso Ondeggia.
Best Cocktail Bar: Scrt Club, Vicenza
This ‘secret bar’, headed by Giacomo Diamante, is hidden behind a bar school and consultancy. A visit here is an exercise in education, whereby guests are encouraged to explore new concepts, trends and flavours.
Best Cocktail Martini: Emanuele Broccatelli at W Rome
To choose the best Martini is a tall order in Italy. Not only was temperature assessed (with an actual thermometer), but ingredients, serve and showmanship were considered.
Best Bartender: Federico Diddi at Sal8 Bar Agricolo, San Vincenzo
While the young Livorno-born Federico dreamt of being a safari guide, his passion for cocktails brought him back down to earth and behind the bar in Rome. You can now find him at Sal8 Bar Agricolo, a cocktail bar set on an organic farm.
Revelation Bar: Mezzo Pieno, Marcianise
This award goes to an off-the-beaten track bar worthy of a detour. Giuseppe Lovine impressed the BlueBlazer team for bringing modern mixology to the small town of Marcianise without disrupting its unique characteristics.
For the full list, visit https://guida.blueblazer.it.