The best cocktail bars in Milan Navigli

Aperitif, Drink / Saturday, March 2nd, 2024

Article written by contributor Giulia Minguzzi

With the arrival of the beautiful season, the desire for a refreshing cocktail at the end of the evening is increasingly felt. But can you enjoy excellent drinks on the Navigli in Milan, perhaps even outdoors? Only if you know where to go. The Navigli district, a point of reference for Milan’s nightlife beloved by the youth, is often criticized for the low quality of the cocktail bars that overlook the Naviglio Grande. The risk of coming across one of those tourist trap venues that offer the usual “buffet-style aperitivo” with a fixed price for a watered-down drink and really poor quality food is just around the corner. It’s better to choose a cocktail bar of a higher standard run by professional bartenders who can create carefully crafted mixtures with quality spirits, rather than settle for improvised drinks and reheated food platters.

In this article, you can find a mini-guide on where to go for a serious aperitivo or to enjoy a good cocktail after dinner on the Navigli.

Where to eat in the Navigli of Milan: 5 restaurants everyone will enjoy
© Serena Milici

You can read this article in Italian here.

Ugo, cocktail bar and bistro on the Navigli

Soft lights, vintage atmosphere, and a drink list for self-discovery: these are the three elements that make Ugo one of the best cocktail bars on the Navigli. The venue is located at Via Corsico 12, an ideal location to guarantee customers some intimacy compared to the flow of tourists (and locals) that animates the Via del Naviglio Grande. Ugo is a safe destination for those who want to enjoy a good cocktail without exceeding €10, staying within the context of the nightlife, but without being dragged by the crowd and entering the first bar that comes along.

Despite the elegance of the interior, the outdoor tables are more popular, both in summer and winter: from there you can drink in tranquility with friends while keeping an eye on what’s happening just steps away from the canal.

The undisputed protagonist of Ugo is this year’s drink list, dedicated to self-discovery through a sensory journey among the flavors of the world: the bartenders at the venue mix ingredients and spirits from many different countries, creating the perfect cocktail for the tastes of each patron. The menu encourages the customer to identify with one of the archetypes described on the card and to find their own identity by sipping the cocktail that best represents them. The archetype of the “Lover” (€9), for example, is sensual, attractive, calming, and the drink inspired by this character is composed of a base of Vodka mixed with cherry soda, raspberry, pink pepper, and a hint of vanilla. Among all the archetypes I have tried, the one I identified with the most was the “Ordinary Man” (€9): simple, respectful, and loyal, a bit like the drink inspired by him, based on Tanqueray Gin (always a certainty), prosecco, Lemon Verbena, lillet blanc, passion fruit, and soda. A fruity, simple but well-balanced taste in the various essences that compose it.

© Giulia Minguzzi

To complete the beverage offer, there is also a menu of small dishes, which offers international and refined dishes, in line with the quality and level of the drinks.

Ugo Bar Milano Via Corsico 12 (M2 Porta Genova)

Zog, from breakfast to late-night drinks on the Navigli of Milan

Venues with three-letter names never seem to disappoint. Another sure bet for quality aperitifs with a direct view of the Naviglio Grande is Zog, an eclectic, artistic, and somewhat retro-style cocktail bar. The venue welcomes customers from the morning, to start the day with a homemade breakfast offering a selection of sweets such as cakes, pies, pastry croissants, and even Sicilian brioches. However, the most vibrant moment is definitely the aperitivo. Starting from 5 PM, the musical soul of the venue begins to be heard and slowly attracts jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts to its tables. Occasionally, they also organize unplugged live music, as well as stand-up comedy performances.

During the aperitivo hours, some snacks are served alongside the cocktails (potato chips, taralli, and olives), just enough to open your stomach and not ruin your dinner. Here, I tasted the best Negroni in the area (€10): strong and decisive flavor, just as it should be, accompanied by a slice of orange as per tradition. Simple, classic but very effective.

© Giulia Minguzzi

The drink list is as eclectic as the soul of the venue and ranges from exotic and sweet flavors to more bitter ones, experimenting with the creativity of the bartenders using unusual ingredients such as dark chocolate. Each cocktail on the menu is designed to reflect the mood of the customer at the time of ordering: I tried the “Bitch Relax,” hoping to transport myself for a few minutes to Caribbean beaches, thanks to the sweet and fruity notes of pineapple and apricot mixed with excellent Pampero Blanco. Among the other proposals, I also appreciated the “Pacific to Arctic,” a cocktail designed to make you smile again, served in an extravagant glass and garnished with hibiscus flowers.

For those who want to stop and eat something more substantial, don’t miss out on the pucce: it will feel like being in Salento!

Zog Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 37 (M2 Porta Genova)

MAG, the Milanese landmark for good drinking on the Navigli

Not far from Zog lies the first branch of the brand that has made history in Milan for quality drinking: MAG Café. The second branch, “La Pusterla,” is located in via De Amicis, a stone’s throw from the district of the 5 Vie and from the Sant’Ambrogio metro station, a meeting point for enjoying a great drink among colleagues after work or after a day at university.

Behind the drink lists of the Farmily group, which also owns the two aforementioned venues as well as 1930 Speakeasy, Iter, and a takeaway bar (Backdoor 43), are Flavio Angiolillo and Marco Russo, entrepreneurial minds who have been able to seize the potential of venues inspired by Old Milan, where customers of a certain level easily become attached and find in these places points of reference for quality cocktails and to enjoy an intimate atmosphere.

© Giulia Minguzzi

MAG Café is the gem of the Navigli: the style is bohemian, the music is soft, the tables are intimate, and the staff is very kind. The drink list changes often, but what doesn’t change is the quality of the spirits used, as well as all the other ingredients that make up the cocktails. The aperitivo is minimal, but the absence of the unlimited buffet is a prerogative of quality bars in this area. Along with each cocktail, you will be given a small and colorful explanatory card with the ingredients that make up the drink.

To stay on theme with Negroni, here you have to try the Sailor’s Negroni: Bitter Fusetti, Vermouth Mancino Ambrato, Old Sailor Coffee, and Mezcal Bruzo, a combination of bitter tastes well balanced with each other and a touch of smokiness given by the mezcal. An alternative to the classic Negroni to experience something different. In addition to the current drink list, the Best Of Mag are always present, led by the Sailor’s Negroni, followed by Giappone (Ginepraio, Ginger Beer, Absinthe, Cardamom, Lime, and Sage Syrup), Famer’s Punch (Farmily 2016, Campari, citrus fruits, raspberry, red fruit tea), and Daiquiri 2017 (Farmily 2017, Clairin Casimir, Lime, Flower Syrup).

The new drink list of this year, entitled The Amazing Mag Magazine – Beautiful tales of Mixology by Farmily Comics, is inspired by comic book superheroes and the city’s metro stations. Each stop corresponds to a cocktail (€11) and the menu’s graphics are made according to comic drawing techniques.

Among the other drinks on the menu, I also tried the Farmily Daiquiri, made with Farmily Mediterraneo, a herbaceous-flavored spirit of their production, Père Labat Rhum, sugar, and lime.

Mag Cafe Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 43 (M2 Porta Genova)

Pinch Spirits & Kitchen in Milan Navigli

How to survive the working week? Pinch Spirits & Kitchen explains it to us with its drink list inspired by the game of goose, which traces a whole series of reasons why you can treat yourself to a good cocktail at the end of the day. On the back, the drinks are listed and explained through a circular map, which graphically describes the composition of the cocktails starting from the alcoholic base up to the garnishes. I appreciated that the glass in which the drink is served was also depicted, a solution to clarify to customers whether it is a long drink or a short drink. In the center, the authors of the recipes and the menu designers.

© Giulia Minguzzi

If you like fruity and aromatic cocktails, try the “Tea-Tanic” (€10): a punch drink based on Irish whiskey, grapefruit liqueur, peach liqueur, flavored tea, and agave syrup. If instead you really want to turn around the bad day you had at work, I recommend the Fizzy Pazzy (€10), with Gin Himbrimi, Mastiha, cucumber and parsley, melon liqueur, and lemon juice.

© Giulia Minguzzi

Once again, no all-you-can-eat buffet, but the reason is more than valid: here they make amazing burgers and sandwiches. Rather than continuing the evening elsewhere, I recommend staying and properly crowning your well-deserved moment of relaxation.

Pinch Spirits & Kitchen Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 63

Article written by contributor Giulia Minguzzi

What do you think of these cocktail bars in Milan Navigli? Have you ever been to any of them? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram!

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