The Italian tradition of aperitivo consists in the enjoyment of low-alcohol drinks—usually herbal, bitter or sparkling—and savory dishes among good company in the hours before dinner.
The Italian Tradition of Aperitivo
It’s 6pm, and it’s been a long day at work. You go home to freshen up for a second wind, excited by the promise of gathering with friends at your favorite spot that gives you life and makes you feel at home. Among laughs and stories of the day, you order mouth-watering cocktails and simple, refreshing dishes, but the night is just getting started. This is the aperitivo.
The Sparkling History of the Aperitivo
The Italian tradition of aperitivo consists in the enjoyment of low-alcohol drinks—usually herbal, bitter or sparkling—and savory dishes among good company in the hours before dinner. The history of the aperitivo can be traced back to eighteenth century Turin where distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created vermouth by combining fortified wine with local herbs. Over time, the love of vermouth, amongst other aperitivo drinks like Campari, spread to Milan. By the early twentieth century, enjoying aperitivo drinks and dishes was a widely practiced ritual in local piazzas, cafès, and osterias throughout the Italian capital.
Deriving from the Latin word aperire, meaning “to open,” the purpose of the aperitivo is to stimulate the appetite, yet it is so much more than this. The aperitivo is a cultural phenomenon in Italy (and now other parts of the world) that brings together friends and strangers in bustling cafès, restaurants and bars regardless of who you are, reaffirming Italian culture’s passion for gastronomy and the magic that inevitably follows as a result.
The Creation of the Perfect Aperitivo
To create the perfect selection of aperitivos and other cocktails, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Damiano Coren, a world-class barman-turned-consultant with decades of experience in the world of hospitality and cocktails. Born and raised in Rome, Damiano lived and worked around the globe before making New York City his permanent home. Today, he collaborates with us to carefully design our cocktails with great love and care for our philosophy.
Seasonality is Key
When planning our cocktail menus, Damiano begins with the most important influence for everything that we do at Sant Ambroeus: seasonality. He says, “Apart from the classic cocktails, we change the menu twice a year, once for spring and summer, and again for fall and winter. In the fall and winter, we play more with orchard fruits and citruses, while in the spring and summer, we try to use more fresh herbs. To create a new cocktail, you start by looking into what you can use as flavors and then consider what you’ve done in the past so as to not repeat yourself.”
For Damiano, it is important to stay true to Sant Ambroeus’s commitment to Italian heritage while playing into the importance we give to innovation. He comments, “I always try to incorporate Italian brands and techniques into my menu. For the classic cocktails, we went with drinks and ingredients typical to Italy like the Bicicletta, made with white wine, Martini bitters and club soda, and the Blood Orange Garibaldi, made with Campari and fresh blood orange juice.”
As for the signature cocktails, Damiano has room to be creative and perceptive of trends when coming up with new recipes. He says, “We also want Sant Ambroeus to be a place where people, even other bartenders, go to try new things and can open up a conversation about it.” For Damiano, every aspect of the cocktail is part of the overall experience, from the name and color to the presentation and flavor. On our summer menu, an example is the beautifully pink Maybe Tonight—made with Bombay dry gin, rhubarb and pink peppercorn cordial, Carpano bitter, and raspberries.
Evolving Cocktails with the Times
While classic cocktails will always be an important aspect of the gastronomic experience, the beauty of craft cocktails lies in their ability to transform with the times. They act as trendsetters in the food scene while constantly refining our palates. The addition of zero-proof cocktails, or non-alcoholic cocktails, to our menu highlights our commitment to that very transformation. Damiano says, “Some people still want to have a great experience without consuming alcohol, which I think is a beautiful thing. Currently on the menu, we have three zero-proof cocktails: Rimmel, Ghia Spritz and Morosita. With each, we try to recreate the experience of a liquor.”
How to Enjoy an Aperitivo at Sant Ambroeus
There are a million and one ways to enjoy an aperitivo at Sant Ambroeus, and with the right pairing, the experience will be one you can’t forget—and definitely one you’ll want to have again and again. Damiano suggests the following:
- For a classic Italian cocktail, enjoy Bicicletta alongside a Shrimp Cocktail, Prosciutto San Daniele e Burrata or Linguine alla Vongole.
- For one of Damiano’s creations for Sant Ambroeus, order the Imola, named for the home of Ferrari and Formula 1, with Tartare di Tonno or Rigatoni Strofinati.