Invoke a touch of Italian leisuretime by creating your own aperitivo hour ritual. Eric Twardzik tells you how (and shares his recipe for the lesser-spotted Cappelletti Spritz).

One failure of the Anglo-American mind is its tendency to conflate day drinking with unrestrained rakishness. We view the pre-five o’clock tippler as a cad straight from the set ofMad Men,clearing his afternoon schedule in the wake of a ruinous three-Martini lunch. Our sole exception is brunch, an overdone affair where far more orange juice is likely to be consumed than Champagne.

So it comes as a shock to stroll the streets of Milan or Rome between four and nine p.m. and witness a drink in almost every hand. What’s more, these hours of sustained day drinking don’t result in police interactions or overtly public bladder relief. Afterward, everyone simply... has dinner.

What are the Italians doing, and—more importantly—how can we join in?



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It’s called aperitivo hour, and like many Italian institutions, it has a patron saint. That would be the Aperol Spritz, a low-ABV concoction that combines the eponymous aperitif with Prosecco and soda water in a long-stemmed, wide-lipped glass with plenty of ice and a single orange wedge garnish. The key to success is Aperol’s gentle alcoholic content of just 11%—or said another way—one-fourth the strength of your average London Dry.

The diversity of venues at which aperitivo hour may be experienced is near limitless. At the bottom of the scale are tabacchi shops where, in addition to cigarettes and lottery tickets, four-euro spritzes made with soda water poured from plastic liter bottles may be procured. There are historic cafes where bowtie-clad waiters carry trays laden with spritzes and bowls of olives and potato chips, their reflections caught in century-old mirrors. And the hip lounges with DJs on-site and decadent spreads of bruschetta and meat-laden crostini that can easily turn into a full meal (though not by Italian standards, of course).

Did I mention that the food at each is gratis? From the cheapest dive to the swankiest club, the olive oil crackers, prosciutto and potato chips (a constant) are simply laid out, anyone’s for the taking. It’s one of those singularly Italian touches that make foreigners blush at their own country’s comparative lack of hospitality.


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As always, change starts at home. You can try organizing your own aperitivo hour among friends, which aside from the company, assures that your Prosecco bottle won’t be three-quarters full and flat in the morning. Serve the best potato chips you can find, and make a reservation at a nearby restaurant with fare hearty enough to satisfy Aperol-lined stomachs. Introduce a little atmosphere by playing some of those dreamy Italian cinema scores, perhaps the theme fromCamille 2000.

That’s not to say it must always be a party. To truly own the ritual, mix it into the most mundane of afternoons. Simplify it by substituting the more-involved Aperol Spritz with any low-proof Italian bitter and soda water, or high-quality vermouth over ice. You’ll find that waiting for Chinese delivery with your phone in your hand doesn’t feel quite the same as waiting for Chinese delivery with a chilled glass of aromatized wine at your lips.

 

If you now feel inclined to fix an aperitivo yourself, follow the recipe below to make a Cappelletti Spritz. It follows the classic 3-2-1 ratio of an Aperol Spritz but swaps out the title spirit for Cappelletti, a red wine-based aperitif that splits the difference between the orangey sweetness of Aperol and the bitter tang of Campari.

Cappelletti Spritz

3 ounces Prosecco (the drier, the better)

2 ounces Cappelletti

1 ounce Soda Water (the fizziest you can find)

Pour Cappelletti into a long-stemmed wine glass and top with prosecco and soda water. Add a handful of thick ice cubes and lightly stir. Garnish with an orange wedge, a speared green olive, or both.