1930 Cocktail Bar – Shh… it is a secret!
Milan is the financial heart of Italy and one of the fashion and design capitals of the world. You will find centuries-old art and cultural history alongside luxury boutiques and sophisticated gastronomy. I had never been to Milan before and it was definitely worth a trip. My bar adventures are a long list of short romances and most of them already started somewhere else. And so does this story. Once upon the time I travelled to Russia and was enchanted by a drink and its creators. Benjamin F. Cavagna and Marco Russo, from the 1930 Cocktail Bar in Milan, had a guestshift at El Copitas Bar in St. Petersburg and presented some of their drinks. Just one sip and I knew immediately where my next trip would be. Join me on a sip to Milan and get a peek inside a very special secret hidden bar.
1930 is a contemporary interpretation of the classic Speakeasy bar of the 20s. It has everything for a great night out: intimacy, something magical paired with exclusiveness and a dash of elitism. Sounds like a great mix, right?
It looks like an unassuming shop, perhaps a take-away, but it’s not. The place is perfectly masked and in the back rooms hides a secret salon. To enter you normally need a membership card or to be part of the inner circle. Almost 90% of the guests are family and friends. The idea behind it was born 6 years ago. Here is a little background information:
1930 is owned by Flavio Angiolillo and Marco Russo, the same owners as Backdoor 43, Barba, Iter and MAG Cafè. MAG opened its doors in 2000 and was one of the first places to become more popular due to mixology. It is situated in the bustling Navigli District in Milan and is a well-known place for its wide variety of cocktails and excellent mixologists. Inspired by the concept of speakeasy bars, Flavio and Marco wanted to offer their regulars, cocktail lovers and close friends a more private hideaway to relax and escape the stress of daily life in Milan. What was a pizza place before became 1930 cocktail bar, located in … shh, you need to be invited. It is a secret to keep. And no, it is not a marketing initiative: 1930 is truly exclusive. There was once a rich guy who had heard about the bar in a luxurious restaurant close by. He tried to pay and showed a bundle of banknotes, but entry was denied. If you are a decent respectful person and know how to behave they might let you in, no worries.
A speakeasy bar for family & friends. And an experimental bar to develop contemporary processing techniques.
This Milanese secret place was inspired by the prohibitionist American speakeasy and is a bar for family and friends. That was the main idea behind it, but there was also another reason. 1930 is also an experimental bar where you can enjoy exceptional creations by the bar team. Translated into practice: sous vide technique, rotovap, fermentation, ice production, and many homemade ingredients. They are breathing new life into the classics with the help of contemporary finishing and processing techniques in their own lab. To be honest, it is a pleasure to be their guinea pig.
1930 was the first bar I visited in Milan. I arrived at the airport in the evening, checked into the hotel room and took a taxi to the place where I suspected the bar would be. I was uber excited and I skipped dinner so as not lose a minute – which in hindsight was an error, I should have known better: never go to a new bar where you know the bartender without having eaten. But this story should also be kept secret.
Once I had entered the shop that I thought was the bar, I said hello to a friendly guy and that I wanted to visit Benjamin. He smiled, took the receiver of a vintage telephone, said a few well-sounding Italian words and suddenly as if by magic, the shelf opened and there was Benjamin smiling at me through his imposing beard. That was the beginning of a new adventure … and they all lived happily ever after.
Once you’ve overcome the hurdles and you’ve been allowed in you find yourself back in the 30s.
The décor, a marriage of luxury and comfort highlighted with Jazz and Swing music. An elegant living room atmosphere with armchairs and sofas, unique pieces of furniture and many memorabilia and rare bottles. A huge piano, that is played on weekends. Benjamin guided me through the venue. The small bar counter hosts a handful of people, some places are labelled with brass plates. I would estimate places for around 50 people. 1930’s back bar is well stocked with bottles. Whisky is a theme, but not the focus. You will find selected spirits, but fewer of them, even if it looks like there’s a lot. There are some treasures to be found here.
It is a two-storey location. The house was built in the 30s and the lower level was used as a bunker and connected to the tunnel system of the attached houses. Now the exposed bricks create a cosy yet wicked atmosphere. Everything fits down to the smallest detail. Nothing is out of place. I immediately felt relaxed and took my favourite spot at the bar counter. A bar entirely to my taste, I thought to myself.
A big globe houses the rolled leather menus. The drinks had already enchanted me abroad, so I unrolled the menu full of expectation. An antique looking world map appeared. The menu changes seasonally and comes with a certain theme. That menu’s theme: What would you be, if you had been born on the other side of the world? The map shows imaginary countries and to each drink, there is a counterpart, like the Lighthouse of Scotland to the Lighthouse of Spain. Very beautifully done. I forgot to count the drinks but it could be a dozen on the menu. No drink is the same as the next. It is a pleasure to watch the bartenders doing their magic in preparing the elaborated cocktails in a short time. Here a picture frame, there a smoking boat, but shh … I don’t want to spoil your anticipation.
My favourite drink of the first night: Martesana. The namesake of this drink is the small river which flows through Milan to the countryside, telling a story of endless fields and the Gorgonzola region. The cocktail combines Compass box Glasgow Blend Whisky, blue cheese, salty peanuts, honey and vinegar, pear, and is rounded off with salt and sugar. Don’t forget to opt for its counterpart, The Mississippi River. Delicious! Not only cocktails await you. If you need something to eat, try the tartare burger.
Time passed by all too quickly. I chatted with Benjamin about bars and life, and I asked him my favourite bartender question: “Describe yourself as a cocktail?” His immediate answer: Brandy Crusta. He likes the mix of classic and contemporary with a sweet bitterness. Invented in the 1850s by an Italian bartender in New Orleans, the Brandy Crusta combines Brandy, Triple Sec, Maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon juice and Angostura bitters. The name comes from the sugar-rimmed glass, the so-called crust. A large spiral of lemon inside the rim of the glass serves as garnish. A bittersweet symphony and extremely tasty. [Note to self: drink more Crustas.] The bartenders are also very good at mixing classic drinks. But what makes a good host? Being professional, paying attention to detail, cleanliness and having a friendly nature. At 1930 they not only have these qualities, but the guys are also handsome. Actually, I didn’t want to leave and that’s the best compliment of all for a bar, right?