How to Throw Together an Italian Cocktail Party in an Instant

Also known as how we spent our time in Milan.

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They say Italians do it better, and when it comes to aperitivo hour, we can confirm that to be true. Earlier this month while in Milan, we decided to take this wonderful Italian predinner tradition and give it our own playful (slightly over-the-top) spin in honor of the long-awaited return of Milan Design Week. 

We started by enlisting some expert cohosts. Our friend J.J. Martin, the design-world guru behind La DoubleJ, lent us her fantasy Milan apartment, her extroverted tableware, and her guidance on the art of aperitivo (not to mention helping us dress the part). Then our own Kate Berry, Domino’s chief content officer and tablescape styling maestro, magically threw together an Insta-worthy spread in a matter of hours. And yours truly, founder of PR company Hello Human (and proud contributing editor here at Domino), brought the cohosts together and gathered the design community to bring the vibes.

Here’s how it all came together (your shopping list included!), so you can host your own aperitivo at home. 

Pick a Palette


First things first: Take stock of the glassware and tableware you have, and spot any color themes that emerge. It was a hard task for us to pick a palette from La DoubleJ’s rainbow-hued glasses and ornate tabletop ceramics, but we eventually landed on green and pink.

Gather Your Buds—Early


Not only is the flower market budget-friendly, there’s more to choose from to match your color scheme. Tip: Go as early as you can to get the day’s best selection. Or if you’re like us and leave it too late, you might end up with a, well, pedestrian selection. Fortunately Berry is a floral wizard, so she picked up a few extra houseplants, including begonias for their cool spotted leaves, then pruned and arranged them with the flowers to add texture and visual contrast.

Take Some Edibles


Fruit is a simple, inexpensive way to style a tablescape with maximum impact—think: cool cornucopia vibes. Simply head to the nearest market and stock up on fruit with interesting shapes and colors. We went for grapes, figs, melons, pears, plums, peaches, and lemons. Keep the leaves on for a wilder look and arrange them around the flowers in an organic, not-too-perfect shape.

Make It Insta-worthy


Think of your tablecloth as the backdrop for your aperitivo table. We chose La DoubleJ’s Wildbird tablecloth in verde to create a bold, two-tone contrast. Then we got to work arranging the flowers and the surrounding fruits and serving plates. We used different size vases from Martin’s collection to add floral volume. She also recommends creating a little extra atmosphere by filling a lineup of small, colorfully printed porcelain vases with buds and tiny flowers. She loves to use her aperitivo trays, plates, and bowls, which, she says, “though inspired by this Italian tradition, make just as gorgeous jewelry vessels and desk organizers.”

Make It Italian


Martin warns: “The Italian aperitivo is not about a few poor peanuts and some bad chips, as it is in America.” Instead it tends to be quite classic, with taralli (small round breadsticks), almonds, pinzimonio (fresh-cut peppers, cucumbers, carrots, etc.), and pizzette (bite-size mini pizzas). And there’s always little nesting bowls with olive oil and just one drop of balsamic vinegar. Or as Martin puts it, “The Italian aperitivo spread is all about generosity and abundance.”

But that doesn’t mean it can all live on the same serving dish. “Everything has its own place,” she says. “The cheese is on one plate; the crackers are on another; the olives have their own dedicated bowl. An Italian would never mix their olives with their cheese!”

Set the Scena


To keep things easy, Martin likes to set up an aperitivo bar on the coffee tables in her living room so guests can serve themselves Aperol Spritzes and Negronis, no waiter necessary. She recommends her colored Rainbow glasses for a prismatic effect. When it comes to drinking vessels, she says: “The bigger the glass, the better. I love using our water glasses for wine.”

Toast to the Good Life


Start welcoming your guests, then have a joyous cin cin! moment, and finally snap some photos of the hosts and guests so you can treasure the memories forever. And don’t forget the tunes. Martin loves to entertain in her home with ’70s funk or anything by Whitney Houston. “My favorite playlists always include ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers,’” she says. “It’s true that any day ending with an aperitivo is indeed lovely!”

And Repeat


If you’ve pulled it off once, you can easily do it again, because the best thing about aperitivo is that most of the food and drink on offer can be taken straight from the pantry. Though Martin recommends a few items you should always have on the ready—such as raw, unsalted almonds, a bag of amazing potato chips, olives, and a bag of grissini or taralli. “I always like to keep a humongous hunk of Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator, too,” she says, “which you can just pull out and dig into for the next two months.”


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