Now several years into the adventure that is expat life in Milan, I would venture to make three sweeping generalisations about Italians on a night out. Firstly, they respect their history, secondly they have a very tribal mentality and thirdly they start the night late and drink very little.
Living in the past
Italians’ general reverence for the past is seen as both a good thing (Teatro alla Scala) and not such a great thing (discoteche as living museums reflecting interior design trends straight out of 1985). With that said, going out in Milan can be a blast, but only if you have an inkling of where to go and what to do. To experience the best of nightlife in Milan, I recommend starting your evening with an aperitivo, then move on to live music or a show, finish your night dancing it out or enjoying a nightcap prepared by a moustached-mixologist.
Related: A short history of aperitivo
Drinking in moderation
h Club > Diane Bar at the Sheraton, Milan
Italians take the idea of doing things in moderation very seriously. This principle extends to almost all Italian traditions, including the way in which one should enjoy alcohol.
Even if many Italians live by the rule that due dita di vino e una pedata al medico (two fingers of wine and a kick to the doctor), it is unlikely that you’ll witness a group of Italians drunkenly wandering the streets after the bars close. They prefer, instead, to keep up la bella figura (good appearances) and avoid coming across as one who consuma più vino che olio (consumes more wine than oil).
Find your tribe
In 1814, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, an Austrian diplomat, wrote that “Italy is only a geographical expression.” Metternich made this statement some decades before the unification of Italy.
What’s incredible is how much the Italian people are still defined by specific social groups or ‘types’. These originate from their region, social class or attitude. But they’re often immovable on them. For example, in Milan you can expect to see your fair share of hipsters and punks, but also the quintessential Milanese: smartly dressed in brands, conservative etc.
With this wide mix of identities, it only makes sense that the nightlife in Milan would reflect just that. Italians are particularly tribe-like in their approach to going out, and they confirm stringently to which ever ‘type’ they are, so pick your scene carefully. If you walk through Montenapoleone in your Converse and jeans expect to get a few strange look. Read: ‘smart types’ only. Each location we’ve recommended will be filled to the brim with a particular ‘type’ – just make sure it's yours.
Where to go for...
images by Ph Brescia, © Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala:
This exquisite, neoclassical opera house filled with beautifully dressed people and heavenly opera or ballet performances is a true Milan must-see. Purchase tickets in advance. www.teatroallascala.org
La Verdi, at Auditorium di Milano, Fondazione Cariplo:
While going to see the Giuseppe Verdi symphony play at the Auditorium is more low-key compared to La Scala, you should still expect an outstanding classical music performance. www.laverdi.org
... for jazz, blues and burlesque
image courtesy of Blue Note
A heaven for jazz, blues and gospel lovers who come from near and far to see big names perform on their famed stage. Get tickets in advance as shows typically sell out quickly. www.bluenotemilano.com
Royal Burlesque Revue at Salon Parisien:
A red curtain is pulled back to reveal a burlesque show set somewhere between 1920 and 1950. Partygoers follow the retro dress code, dancing to tunes from the same era until late. www.royalburlesque.it
...for a nightcap
image courtesy of The Doping Club
The Doping Club:
Dapper gents and mixology enthusiasts savour delectable drinks in this impeccably-decorated bar which has been featured in numerous photo shoots. www.thedopingclub.com
A restaurant, cocktail bar and two rooftop pools, all on top of the house of Dsquared2. Wonderfully Milan. www.ceresio7.com
...to dance it out
image courtesy of Rocket Milano
In the Armani flagship on Via Manzoni, right under Armani/Nobu, this club is perfect for fashionistas, who have a perfect backdrop in the minimalist Japanese-inspired décor with red lanterns by Armani/Casa. Strict entry selection, good cocktails. www.armaniristorante.com
Fashion house Byblos Milano’s club is known for being a place where beautiful and creative people come together. Stop by on a Saturday night for DJ sets featuring dance tracks that keep revellers going ’till late. www.byblosmilano.com
Celebrities from all over the globe consider Plastic a favourite late-night pit-stop in Milan. Check this super LBGTQ-friendly discoteca on Saturday for ‘House of Bordello’ and dance to your heart’s content.
Young Milanese creative and banker types alike flock to this alternative club to enjoy beats brought by visiting, international DJs. www.therocket.it