It’s 7pm on a Saturday night in Milan and a huge crowd has gathered in front of Bar Basso. The hour for the aperitif has only just begun, but inside the tables are already occupied. From the wealthy locals smoking HeatSticks to the trendy types carrying tiny dogs, they’re all holding the same rust-colored cocktail.
A negroni sbagliato translates as a “wrong negroni” or a “wrong” one. Similar to a true negroni (gin, vermouth, and Campari), swap the gin for sparkling wine. And like an Aperol spritz, when ordering it, it is advisable to truncate it – spritz there, sbagliato here – if you want to pass for an authentic Milanese. Behind the bar, five bartenders fill shakers with ice, then pour the liquor into glasses the size of pineapples. They make so many each night that they refer to them as “sba” for short.
This year, the sbagliato celebrates its 50th anniversary. But while it’s hardly drunk outside of Italy, it’s beginning to appear in more demanding international establishments. The Rectory Hotel in the Cotswolds added it to its bar menu, with owner Alex Payne describing it as the “perfect hangover drink”.
Sbagliato entered the British vernacular last fall after House of the Dragon actress Emma D’Arcy declared in an interview that it was her favorite cocktail. The video blew up on TikTok, as these things do, “and now, here we are,” says Bar Basso owner Maurizio Stocchetto, 62.
Cocktail origin stories vary wildly, but despite the name, this cocktail was no accident. “It was deliberately conceived,” says Stocchetto. “In the early 1970s, after women’s liberation, women used to go to bars by themselves, so we needed something more suited to a woman’s palate, and with less alcohol,” she tells the Observer. .
“I’ve heard so many versions of this story over the years that it’s hard to know which is the truth, but that’s the sbagliato, not a mistake.”
Interior of the Bar Basso in Milan. Photography: Alamy
Packed bar crowds are now commonplace, Stocchetto says. “A few years ago, it was just during fashion week or design week in April. But these days we are always full.”
The bar is a well-known gathering place among those in the rarefied art world. During miart, the contemporary art fair in Milan, REM frontman Michael Stipe would walk in alone and sit at the bar. “He did it three nights in a row and nobody bothered him,” says Stocchetto. On another rainy night, he shared a cigarette with Jefferson Hack, who founded the youth and pop culture zine Dazed & Confused and Another Magazine. “I only know because I went home and Googled it,” adds Stocchetto.
The neon sign outside Bar Basso has lit up the Porta Venezia district ever since Mirko Stocchetto, Maurizio’s father, heard that the owner was “winning” and bought the bar in the mid-1960s. It first opened in 1947, and most of the furnishings date from this post-war period. Sitting on a busy street corner in an area known for its nightlife, gay culture, and design scene, Bar Basso is largely unchanged.
Shaped like a horseshoe, it has a long, curved bar and a prepaid counter. Large perspex cubes of plain potato chips are decanted into bowls. “It’s very modest, it hasn’t been gentrified,” says Stocchetto.
He started working here in 1976 when he was 16 years old and needed pocket money to buy gasoline for his motorcycle. “Then I got hooked on the bar life,” she says. Like her family, she still lives in an apartment above the bar.
When the family arrived in the 1960s, it was more of a gentlemen’s bar. “You know, chauvinistic jokes, it wasn’t attractive to a woman,” she says. “Then women began to work in stores, offices and magazines, and we began to see these women, independent, also financially, entering the bar alone.”
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Cocktails come and go, especially in the age of social media, where we are as influenced by how something looks as we are by how it tastes. Take the Aperol Spritz, for example, which took over the global bar scene in 2017, thanks in no small part to a marketing campaign launched by Aperol’s owner, the Campari group. Building on the success of the millennial rosé, and a precursor to the New York canned carbonated drink trend, the spritz was a marketing dream.
Bar Basso in the Porto Venezia district of Milan. Photography: Alamy
According to Gabrielle Bluestone’s 2021 book Hype, the cocktail’s rise was spearheaded by advertising agency JWT New York, whose goal was to “position the Aperol Spritz as the drink of choice for the social fighter… who doesn’t mind splurging on the new”. hot product if it advances your social status.” It also helped that the drink was aesthetically pleasing, the color of a Riviera sunset, and served in comically round glasses.
The sbagliato is also well photographed and comes in Instagrammable glasses, designed by Stocchetto’s father so that the base was thick enough to prevent tipping. But it has stiff competition from the Kir Royale (champagne and crème de cassis), which is also trending on Twitter thanks to its appearance in the second series of Emily in Paris, in which our (briefly) unemployed hero is advised to “ Sip, and do nothing.”
Stocchetto can relate to these success stories. “What you’re drinking is important, but more than that, it’s the community you drink with. In Milan during the 1970s, we saw riots and violence,” he says. “All the subcultures congregated at the bar, as well as the left and the right. But nothing ever happened. It was peaceful, just drinking.”