It all started way back at the beginning of my adventures in Milan, when a friend of mine was telling me more about the city and Italian culture. She was explaining all about museums, fashion, design, parties and famous people. It all sounded quite standard to me, until all of a sudden, just casually she mentioned that she would really like to go to the canal at Porta Genova and visit this very special café and talk to the owners. I was a bit surprised and my curiosity kicked in, so I asked WHY on Earth she wanted to do that. She got very excited. I thought she had fallen for another bartender. But no! It was something else. A Milanese mystery. She told me the story of this very secret bar that you can only enter if the owners of another bar on Navigli like you and invite you personally. It was a friends only bar. A bar for cocktail admirers of another level. Not many Milanese can brag about being there. They have all heard of it, but it remained a city legend.
Those of you, who know my story, are well aware that for six summers I co-owned a beach bar and cocktail culture is practically in my blood. I was so inspired by her story and urged her to explore this legend, but the two of us never got to the mysterious bar together. She never told me the name and soon after this conversation our friendship broke (for an Italian boy, of course).
For a long time I had forgotten about this story, until months later I got lost in the Italian underground on my way to a ballet performance of a classmate. All dressed up in a red dress and high heels, I thought it was a waste to go back home and decided to find some adventure on my own. Luckily, I was sitting next to a couple and asked them to recommend the nearest cocktail bar. They laughed a bit at my bravery to go out alone in a bar in Italy with a red dress and then pointed me towards Navigli. According to them, it was full of good bars (for the record: not true, but comment below if you want to know more).
I had visited Navigli only after parties at 5 am, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to take a look around on this particular evening. I searched online for the nearest cocktail bar and this is how I ended up in MaG – a bar fill not only with the sense of magic, but also with a very detailed and mysterious interior. A bird nest, antique armchairs, tens of different kinds of metal glasses, portraits of mysterious creatures, signs with letters and some inscriptions. Not being ashamed for being by myself, I sat directly at the bar to observe the work of the bartenders. To me it is like a dance of the hands. They were all in great mood, with big smiles and were working with great finesse, while constantly joking with each other. They noticed I came alone and decided not to let me get bored. Nico and Francesco were their names. Nice guys. Conversations went on, I was admiring the interior until all of a sudden I noticed it – “The Savoy Cocktail Book”. Here are some of the pictures from that night...
I asked Francesco to read the book and he looked at me with surprise. He took the key for the antique locker it was in and gave it to me. The night was already perfect. This book was the perfect companion. After an hour though its pages discussing it with the guys and all ready to go home, I was handing the book back, when they looked at each other and nodded silently, before Nico shoot me with the question:
- Do you want to go to a very special place?
For a moment I thought they meant something else. After all, we all know the stereotype for Eastern-European girls in Italy.
- Nice joke. – I replied and looked at Francesco. – Do I want to go?
He laughed and started nodding with enthusiasm and just asked:
- What time can you be there? 23:00? – it was 21:30.
Confused and hesitant, I nodded.
- Perfect! – he said, and took out his phone. – Hi! Yes, I am sending Mila for 23:00. Okay, thank you! (all of this in Italian of course)
Afterwards, he gave me the most mysterious look and on a piece of paper he wrote the address. At 22.30 I left MaG and the guys waved me goodbye with such warm eyes, as if they were happy for me and where I was going. So many emotions passed through me, since I already had been able to put two and two together and I knew exactly where I was going. This was it, the secret bar from my friends’ story! I couldn’t believe it!
When I got to the address (which will remain a secret), I was intrigued. It was a normal shop for groceries, which even looked quite empty. I knew a lot about the Speakeasy era, so I entered boldly. A friendly guy, named Nish, welcomed me and asked if someone was waiting for me. Oh God, this really was it!!! I told him that Nico and Francesco sent me to see Ben.
Another mysterious look and he was dialling on a vintage phone to confirm my name with someone on the other side of the line. He looked at me again. Any moment now they were going to come and pick me up (it sounds as if I were a victim of human traffic scheme - is what my dad said when he heard the story). He poured a glass of water for me in a beautiful crystal piece and put it on a floral metal coaster. Who were “they”, I asked myself. I waited like this, while my curiosity ate me up inside. I felt so special….
After some sweet moments of excitement, a door opened and…
... to be continued next week.