A History of Aperitivo

Aperitivo in Italy

Trastevere, Piazza Spagna, Campo di Fiori, Pantheon, Colosseum… among those most famous landmarks in Rome, have you ever noticed those tiny tables outside a bistro around the sunset hours? Many people sit there, do their people-watching, whilst typically sipping on a big glass of orangey-red drink with a plate of finger food. That is the art of Aperitivo. Aperitivo is internationally known nowadays as a fancy Italian Happy Hour. In this blog we will explore the culture of Aperitivo for Italians and take a look at where it all started!


What does Aperitivo mean?

Aperitivo is a modern Italian word that derives from the verb “aprire”. It means open. Open what? Your appetite! Why do the Italians need to open their appetite? Open their appetite for what purpose? Is it a tradition that the Italians are born practicing without thinking why?

Ancient Roman Aperitivo?

We find the answer in Rome. “All Roads Lead To Rome”. Even though modern Aperitivo started in northern Italy, we can’t ignore its derived identity in Rome, or rather Ancient Rome. The Ancient Romans had a word gustatio, which describes the plentiful first course at a Roman banquet. It was effectively known as an anticipated dinner consisting of salty snacks and the sweet aromatic drinks with higher alcohol content. Sounds exactly like the Aperitivo we love nowadays, right?

History of Aperitivo 

Tuscan Vermouth

The Aperitivo we know today was born in Piedmont, the capital city of Turin which is one most famous and important regions in Italy. In 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano was bored of being a traditional distiller and started experimenting in his lab. Accidentally he added aromatic herbs and ingredients like vanilla, saffron, wormwood and more to create Vermouth. Vermouth immediately became a fashionable drink in the region because it was a new bitter and sweet experience that satisfied the Tuscans without breaking anyone’s bank account. 

Many people started to drink it after a whole day working before heading to dinner. Bravo, Antonio! You not only invented a top-shelf liquor but also brought back the long-lost memory of the gustatio.

A History of Aperitivo 1

Florentine Negroni

History is an interesting thing. Gustatio was reborn in the north centuries later in 1876, but it didn’t spread from Turin until about a century later.  It’s time to mention the other key person in the history of Aperitivo: Count Camillo Negroni. Yes, the famous cocktail Negroni doesn’t have the same name as his family name by coincidence. Early in 19th century Florence, Count Negroni invented a vermouth-based orange drink with Gin and Campari. The Negroni cocktail immediately became popular among the bartenders in Florence, and wider Tuscany. As a result, locals quickly became addicted to the Aperitivo culture with this new fashionable drink.

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Venetian Spritz 

While the Tuscans were busy drinking Negroni, Turin and Milan were arguing over the origin of Vermouth! On the other hand, the Venetians were about to change the game. The Spritz Veneziano, or the Sprtiz, became a super popular modern cocktail in the 1800s.

Spritz was born during the period of the Habsburg domination in Veneto. The rumor is that the soldiers requested the Italian bartenders to make a weaker wine by adding water. The region of Veneto is a major producer Prosecco and had been for a long time prior to the invention of the Spritz. People say that somehow over time the water has been replaced with a more favorable liquors

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Over the years, the Italians also added different bitter liquor, and today we have the famous Aperol Spritz or Campari Spritz, along with a few other variations. Maybe, the Italians really couldn’t tolerate diluting their beloved Prosecco. The Venetians started to enjoy their new fancy drinks with their Cicchetti, a sort of Venetian Aperitivo which you usually typically found in certain bars of Venice called bacari.


Aperitivo Today

Almost 3 centuries later, how do we Aperitivo today? Firstly, it has become an international saying for drinks deals in sunset hours.

Aperitivo is something more than just eating snacks and drinking something fancy during sunset hours. It became a lifestyle that lets people gather with family, friends, co-workers, or the other people in the bar. It doesn’t really whether you choose Vermouth, Negroni, or Spritz. The most important thing is enjoying the moment and gossiping about; life, what’s happening in the office, things that you want to know, and undoubtedly some things you don’t want to know.

How to enjoy Aperitivo in Rome?

There are no straight rules to follow to enjoy an Italian Aperitivo. It is generally a little informal and its acceptable to use your hands. Here are some tips:

The Dealio

Traditionally Aperitivo means that you pay only for your drinks, and you can take anything from the buffet in the bar. 

How to do it?

To Italians, Aperitivo is to anticipate your dinner. Therefore, the locals truly take little bites as they sip on their Italian Cocktails. It can just be some chips or peanuts in some bars. After Aperitivo, most of the Italians will rush to restaurants ready for dinner. Or, head back home for a cozy home-cooked dinner. However, some places treat Aperitivo as a meal and offer a great selection that gets re-filled regularly. In this case, you can skip dinner.

Choose your spot carefully

The most useful way to avoid tourist traps is to check the prices and Tripadvisor. Normally, a classic Aperitivo in Rome costs 7-12euros. Of course, if you find a fancy rooftop with a great view then expect to pay a premium price. 

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Where to Aperitivo in Rome 

To make it easy we have made you a list of our favorite Aperitivo hotpsots in Rome.

Freni E Frizioni

The bartenders here are expert mixologists—tell them what flavors you like and they’ll create a cocktail for you using fresh fruit and a combination of liquors. The food is unbelievable.

Salotto 42

Grab a cocktail, fill up a plate with snacks, and find yourself a seat on one of the little sofas. If you stay long enough, the music will pick up as the vibe becomes more energized.


A top contender without a doubt. For 10€, choose one of the excellent cocktails and head to the unlimited buffet.

Written by Menty Yu, Editor of  www.gustobeats.com

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