The continued rush back to our favorite bars (the crowd waiting at my Brooklyn local, The Long Island Bar, can run three-deep on a Tuesday night) proves that cocktails and cocktail culture don’t seem to be in need of a PR agent to lobby on behalf of their spirited cause.
But when it comes to the synchronicity of adult drinks and the culinary world, and their place at the table throughout a meal (beyond the pre-dinner drink), cocktails tend to be pushed aside to make way for more traditional options like beer and wine. There are exceptions, and imaginative pairings of cocktails alongside multi-course savory menus do exist, but a parade of spirituous pairings can easily overpower the proceedings.
One of the most visible intersections of food and drink on display in American bars remains the ubiquitous “happy hour.” It’s a popular pastime, but its limited window of availability for cheap bites and discounted drinks has trained consumers to focus less on the quality of the experience and more on the perceived ratio of abundance to value. And even with the continued stateside adoption of spritz-fueled aperitivo-style experiences, there are still elements that can get lost in translation. But there’s enough evidence that these two distinctive experiences can harmoniously overlap.
We can all benefit by taking time to draw inspiration from the European culture and tradition of aperitivo …
We can all benefit by taking time to draw inspiration from the European culture and tradition of aperitivo—the post-work gathering of friends and colleagues over drinks paired with small, often salty bites of food—that serves as a symbolic bridge from the end of the workday to a more substantial dinner. In Spain, it’s tapas or pintxos paired with vermouth, cider, or beer, while in France it’s l’apéro, with snacks like potato chips, olives, coins of saucisson, or jars of rillette with slices of fresh baguette alongside a Kir or glasses of chilled pastis.
When considering a more sustainable approach to marrying the social aspect of drinking with food, turning to Italy is always a good idea. Historically in the aperitivo belt across northern Italy, from Turin to Venice, what you drank was driven by regional customs and traditions. The success of Italian icons like the Aperol Spritz and the Negroni has spread across Italy and into the world beyond. And as anyone who’s felt the glow of an Italian vacation wear off with the realization that we can never duplicate the specific pace and rhythms of living like an Italian, the bittersweet Negroni and all that it embodies allows us to drink like an Italian no matter where we are.
… [What] might be perceived as simply being indolent is an essential practice to renewed creativity and productivity.
While that iconic Negroni is emblematic of the transportive power of Italy’s la dolce vita, it can also open up other aspects of Italian culture such as dolce far niente, or “the sweetness of doing nothing.” This is also the title of an endearing book by Sophie Minchilli, who explores this distinctly Italian philosophy through the traditions of food and drink and family and friends, and counters how what might be perceived as simply being indolent is an essential practice to renewed creativity and productivity.
Slow Food was founded in Italy in 1989, and its core values focus on food and drink grown or produced within the parameters of good, clean, and fair, and ensuring that local food cultures and traditions don’t disappear. As the name suggests, Slow Food is about counteracting the modern lifestyle focused on a fast and often disposable culture. For many of us, it wasn’t until the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that we had no other option but to put our lives on pause. And while many of us were filled with anxiety and uncertainty, this reset also served as a spark to transform our perspective on our priorities and the quality of our lives.
Minchilli’s Instagram (@sminchilli) offers a daily collage of the rattle of porcelain cups at a small café as the barista pulls another espresso, older men gathering around al fresco tables at a Roman bar drinking bottles of red label Peroni and playing cards, or a group of friends sipping crimson-hued Negronis and nibbling on olives. These seemingly ordinary and uneventful moments born of daily rituals offer the promise of adding up to scenes from an extraordinary life.