What Is Aperitivo? All About the Italian Tradition

Here’s your go-to primer on the art of Italian happy hour

Americans love their happy hour. Yet, meeting friends for after-work cocktails isn't exactly a uniquely red-white-and-blue thing. In fact, Italy has its own tradition that predates the stateside type of gathering: aperitivo.

Consider aperitivo the sophisticated cousin to happy hour, even though they both occur around the same early-evening time frame. The first difference you'll notice with aperitivo is the mind-set surrounding the tradition. Instead of drinking as a way to signal the end of a busy work day, aperitivo celebrates the start of the evening. Though it is an occasion to unwind and enjoy the company of friends, aperitivo isn't about getting a fast buzz. If American happy hour were a drink, it would be a shot—fast and to the point. If aperitivo were a drink, it would be a spritz best enjoyed in small sips.

The next notable difference is the drink menu itself. You won't find sweet cocktails, which are thought to dull taste buds before dinner. Their replacement? Drinks centered around spirits and wines with a more bitter profile. Princi, the Italian bakery and café recently open in Seattle, New York City and Chicago, features the classic Aperol Spritz, Negroni and Campari Spritz.

For Rocco Princi, the famed baker who founded Princi in southern Italy, the aperitivo menu is one of many ways the café authentically honors the Italian ideal of La Bella Figura. This phrase refers to the Italian way of life, which celebrates the company of family and friends, a strong sense of place, and food and drink that delight the senses. From the commessas who greet you like family upon entering to fresh-baked breads made in the authentic Italian tradition, a visit to Princi is an immersive experience in the Milan way of La Bella Figura. To replicate the experience at home, gather your friends for aperitivo with these four cocktail recipes.

Pear Aperol Spritz

This autumnal spin on the Italian classic includes pear and a hint of vanilla, but you can choose to leave them out—and get ready to discover your new go-to cocktail order.

Negroni with Sparkling Wine

This new take on a Negroni adds sparkling Pinot Noir to round out the familiar mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. The wine gives the cocktail a jewellike color and a rich depth. It's also known as the Negroni Sbagliato (the mistaken Negroni), and Prosecco can also be swapped in for the sparkling Pinot Noir.

Sparkling Cynar Cocktail

Herbal and refreshing, this cocktail is the perfect introduction to Cynar, a bitter liqueur made from artichokes. A little bit of grapefruit juice and rum bring out the subtly sweet notes in Cynar without being too sugary.

The Americano

When you want something on the lighter side, count on this fizzy cocktail that stars Campari and sweet vermouth. Basically, it's a Negroni without the gin.