On a nondescript roundabout east of the Centro Storico, a neon sign in whimsical mid-century cursive bridges a lipstick-red awning: Bar Basso. If you don’t know Milan – even, perhaps, if you do – you might walk right by. At noon, the 1950s interior usually looks empty, save perhaps for a pair of grey-haired gentlemen nursing minuscule cups of coffee under crystal chandeliers at the zinc bar.
They say never meet your heros – it’s different this time.
Any later, though, and you’d be crazy to miss it. At lunchtime, students from the Politecnico trickle in, followed by young professionals, many from the architecture practices sprinkled outside the Porta Venezia. They air-kiss, then pull up at wooden tables around the perimeter. It makes for great people-watching. Some will order small plates of prosciutto and meatballs in tomato sauce. But most stand at the old bar in the hopes that they’ll be sipping coffee in the company of Maurizio Stocchetto.
Stocchetto might just be the most popular barman in town. As the sun starts to wane, more pilgrims will come to Via Plinio to pay their respects: men with full hair, blazers and cashmere scarves; women in coordinated separates, chunky jewellery and “signature” hairstyles; perfume, pocket-dogs and tinted glasses at night. They come to visit Stocchetto, and to quaff the house Negroni sbagliato, a “bungled” version of the Negroni invented by Stocchetto’s father and Bar Basso founder Mirko, made with sparkling wine instead of gin. Stocchetto still serves the sbagliato in custom oversized glasses.
The Stocchettos have owned the bar since they purchased it from veteran bartender Giuseppe Basso in the 1960s. Sometime around 1968, during a period when Mirko was transforming the traditional caffè into a modern apéritif joint, he famously botched the Negroni with a top of fizzy Ferrari wine, making it deliciously light and fresh. It quickly became a speciality. Cocktails, popularised at the time by the Rat Pack and Sixties swingers, had never been part of the social vernacular. Mirko, coming from a post at Harry’s Bar in Venice, started it all.
But Bar Basso has truly come into its own over the past few decades, since designers working for Ettore Sottsass and other Milanese greats started meeting here regularly – particularly during the annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair. Marc Newson, designer of the iconic Lockheed Lounge, and Ron Arad, of the Loop Loop chair, became regulars, when they were in town meeting with manufacturers and patrons. Fashion designers, editors and bloggers caught on later.
A new tradition that lives on
Even after Mirko’s death in 2015, the sbagliato remained the same: plentiful in its huge glass, with vast, hand-cut ice cubes and a slice of orange. A few weeks a year, on nights when the fashion and design crowds are celebrating Salone, or Milan Fashion Week, or even Fiera dell’Arte, hundreds of revellers dressed in black spill out onto the sidewalk clutching those colossal glasses. Nobody is eating, everybody is laughing, and the bittersweet memory of the sbagliato clings to the tongue, until the calendar cycles through again.