Where to drink, eat, party, and people watch during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. 

By Ian David Volner
Updated: January 21, 2017
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The 55th annual edition of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the largest design fair in the world, descends on Milan this week, flooding this city of 1.3 million people with close to 300,000 visitors. Furniture showrooms and event venues all over town, to say nothing of the streets and subways, are teeming at all hours with entrepreneurs, architects, foreign media and international design freaks of all stripes—so the question is, if you’re in town in mid-April, are you feeling “fair” or “unfair”? Here are a few Milanese hotspots to hit up if you feel like joining in on the Salone fun, and a few where you’ll be safe from the madness. Otherwise? The next best Milanese move is to skip town. “I move to Rome for a week,” says one local, whose only other means of escaping the fair is, he claims, to stay inside, “boarded up at home with my cats.”

Bar Basso: FAIR

Milan’s premier after-hours watering hole, Basso is the original home of the sbagliato—literally “screwup”—a Negroni rumored to have been invented when one of the establishment’s bartenders accidentally substituted prosecco for gin. The effect on the senses is about what it sounds like, but the sense of intoxication and confusion is amplified considerably during Salone when hundreds of people descend on Bar Basso beginning around 11PM, spilling into the surrounding traffic circle.

Bar Magenta: UNFAIR

Love Bar Basso’s old-timey feel, but don’t feel like getting elbowed in the face by a sodden Philippe Starck? Bar Magenta is sort of Basso’s west-side counterpart, and it remains fairly local-heavy even at the height of Salone. Best of all, Magenta is a redoubt of Italian tavola calda bar food, and the gigantic free buffet—replete with tramezzi sandwiches, slices of frittata, prosciutto and mortadella and hunks of Asiago cheese—is enough to stand in for dinner, and all for the price of a bottle of Moretti beer.  

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Museo Civico di Storia Naturale: UNFAIR

The city’s natural history museum occupies one of the city’s most eccentric buildings (and this in a city whose architectural eccentricity is second perhaps only to Barcelona): neo-Renaissance spiked with Romanesque, with Classical elements thrown in for good measure, the 1880’s palazzo also happens to be home to a remarkable collection that includes a Cro-magnon skull and a boy-and-girl  pair of spider crabs locked in what looks like a permanent courtship dance. (Don’t tell Starck, he’d probably like it.)

Villa Necchi Campiglio: FAIR

If you’ve ever seen the Tilda Swinton film Io sono l’amore, you remember this house. Designed by Piero Portaluppi in 1932, it’s among the most striking examples of Italian razionalismo architecture, filled with richly patterned marble and bronze fixtures that make it a warmer, more domestic, and far more sumptuous take on the monumental Mussolinian style. It’s a lot of fun to go for a party during Salone; only trick is getting invited. You can always try telling the bouncer you know Tilda.

Via Mozart, 14

Antica Trattoria della Pesa: FAIR

A favorite in the city since 1880, the restaurant’s northern Italian cuisine vies is among the city’s best (in particular their version of the classic Milanese ossobucco) while atmosphere is suitably homey, faintly rustic with wooden cabinetry and oil paintings. Unfortunately for the insanity-averse, it enjoys a location wedged between the Garibaldi train station and the Corso Como commercial corridor, making it a popular choice for the design crowd.

Taverna Moriggi: UNFAIR

More down-market than della Pesa, Moriggi is a straight-up risotto spot, a peculiarly medieval-feeling, cave-like space that may just be too autentico for the more genteel souls who frequent the fair. Note the orthographic discrepancy between the restaurant’s name and the street on which it is located: the story goes that the long-dead Signor Morigi/Moriggi didn’t really know how to spell his surname; the restaurant chose one, the city chose the other, and, this being Italy, no one seems to mind the contradiction.

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Vertical Forest: UNFAIR

For a little contemporary design without all the contemporary design people, walk right over to architecture Stefan Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, two surreal residential towers completed in 2014. Eighteen and twenty-six stories respectively, the high-rises are veritable gardens in the sky, fully decked out in flourishing vegetation that sprouts and dangles from the jutting balconies studding the facades. Unless you know someone who lives inside, you can’t go in; but the new Porta Nuova district where they’re located hasn’t quite caught on with Salone folk just yet, so you can gaze upwards unmolested.

Via Gaetano de Castillia and Via Federico Confalonieri

Fondzione Prada: FAIR

When the Rem Koolhaas-designed building opened last year just after Salone, it was mobbed with fairgoers keen to see the new arts-and-culture initiative from Milans’ favorite clothier dynasty. Eleven months later, it’s still a popular destination, a quick ride south of town on the metro—this month sees an exhibition on artist Thomas Demand and another featuring the work of Goshka Macuga. If you’re too tired to head to Magenta or Basso, just walk right into the Fondazione’s Bar Luce: created by director Wes Andersen, it’s a perfect copy of a traditional Milanese café.

Zona Tortona: FAIR

This sometime industrial zone, which still hosts some working manufacturers, is the most intense locus of activity during Salone outside the suburban fairgrounds, especially for younger designers. People on stilts; people dressed up like Nintendo characters; old loft spaces filled with young talent from Gabon and Holland and China, all of them sharing the spotlight with global starchitects and car manufacturers: it’s a little like well-dressed Burning Man on espresso.