Isola (‘Island’ in Italian) is a post-war neighbourhood where Milan’s factory workers used to reside. As the name suggests, Isola was isolated from the city, cut off by railway tracks, until now. The remoteness of the area led to an influx of hipsters, street artists and alternatives during the late 20th century and their influence here is still strong. Recently, the newly built Porta Nuova close to Isola has ushered in a gentle gentrification of the area, with art-deco apartment blocks being built and the buildings smartened up. The shift in the inhabitants of Isola has led to the emergence of a home-grown boutique scene. Relatively unassuming streets at first sight are in fact lined with vintage shops and restaurants devoted to the rockabilly era. Mods, beats, and bikers frequent the cafés, often donning full rockabilly dress at all times of day.
Unlike other cities, Milan’s street art tends to be by local artists, many of who have been commissioned. In Isola traditional graffiti locations have been covered with modern frescos and portraits, of which the most prominent is the Giant Arnold in front of Frida. For other great works, head to Via Carmagnola and Via Angelo della Pergola.
Tucked away behind a graffiti-covered wall, Isola’s bohemian café is a rare find in a city of shimmering wine bars and old-world trattorias. Excellent Italian aperitivo is served in this artsy warehouse full of coloured tables, vintage posters and photo exhibitions. Outside, the covered, leafy courtyard is a real local secret. Frida has a huge selection of wines and serves over 80 cocktails. www.fridaisola.it
Since its inauguration in 2009 this neo-bistro has become something of a Milan institution. Formerly a railway storeroom, the interior is sparse and chic and creates an informal atmosphere that matches the produce created by Slow-Food approved chefs. www.ratana.it
The Botanical Club
The Botanical Club
Another of Milan’s mighty gin bars, the Botanical Club is the city’s first micro-distillery, so yes, they actually produce everything you drink within eyesight, next to the kitchen – which specialises in implementing world flavours into Milanese cooking. www.thebotanicalclub.com
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This venue originally opened to bring members of the snow sports and skateboarding universe together. The architecture of this store is enough of a pull in itself: part warehouse, part skate-park (half-pipe included), it was originally a cinema that closed down and was restored to new life with a magnificent transformation. A multi-concept space devoted to apparel, design and events, there are also lectures, competitions and workshops held here. There is a café and social space above. Not to be missed by architecture and design fans. www.bastard.it
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Home to an exhibition space devoted to vintage bikes and boards, Deus also has ‘motion’ memorabilia and apparel for sale. The store is flanked by its excellent cafè, low-lit, vintage-furnishings and serving breakfast through to aperitivo and dinnertime. Perfect for traditional Italian and more international relaxed cuisine. www.deuscustoms.com
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Maiter Ferrario has spent years closely researching objects that bring a sense of surprise and beauty to the everyday. His mix of arts, furniture and photography is a joy to see. The gallery also showcases its unique style during the Furniture Show, usually focusing on a specific theme. www.galleriawabi.it
A new address where you can view the collections of the eclectic designer, who uses only waste materials to create stunning, very different furniture and products. Coppers, oxidised metals, barrels and gutters are just some of the materials used to create bespoke and tailored pieces that glimmer with charm and peculiarity. www.costanzaalgranti.it