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Ask a Bartender: Who Makes the Best Aperol Spritz in Philly?
A 101 lesson on the Venetian cocktail, plus the Philly bars and restaurants serving classic and reinvented versions.
Mike Landers is a Philly-based bartender. You may recognize him from Martha, or maybe Emmanuelle, The Yachtsman, Bloomsday, Pennsylvania Libations in RTM, or his current gig at Forest & Main Brewing Company in Ambler. He’s seen the city’s cocktail scene up close, and wants to help you find your own path to booze nerdom — or at least enjoy your drinks a little more.
As the weather warms up, everyone wants to sit outside drinking glasses filled with ice and neon-orange liquid known as the Aperol spritz. The drink is a cultural phenomenon: The internet broke a few years ago when a New York Times columnist trashed the drink. This year, Aperol sales supposedly spiked 50 percent after the newest season of White Lotus dropped.
But the trend isn’t new by any means. Back in the late 1800s, Austrian soldiers in modern-day Italy regularly “spritzed” their wine with soda water to more closely mimic the white wines they were used to drinking further north. At the time, bitter, herbal medicines — strong-tasting herbs preserved in alcohol, allowing their rough flavors to be smoothed by sugar — were common for aiding digestion. By the 1900s, people were drinking bittersweet aperitivi before dinner and digestivi after. These liqueurs were quickly incorporated into spritzed-wine drinks, and the Venice spritz was born. It spread all over Italy. By the 1990s, the Aperol spritz was the standard.
As for me, I’m all aboard the Aperol-spritz train in 2023. Part of its popularity (and deliciousness) lies in its simplicity. The classic recipe calls for three ounces of prosecco, two ounces of Aperol — which is only 11 percent ABV and contains cinchona bark, rhubarb root and gentian root for bitterness, as well as other fruits, flowers and herbs — and one ounce of club soda, then garnished with an orange wheel and a green olive.
And, after thorough testing, I have concluded that it’s always the right time for an Aperol spritz in Philly, not just before dinner or when it’s sunny outside. Below, you’ll find my favorite places to enjoy classic versions as well as creative interpretations from Philly bartenders. A-P-E-R-O-L SPRITZES! (In Eagles chant tune, obviously.)
Hale & True, Bella Vista
Apple-rol Spritz: Philadelphia Distilling’s clementine aperitivo, soda water, orange, “Hail to the Hop” cider – $12
Cider has followed in the footsteps of craft beer, with local producers allowed to serve anything they make as well as other products crafted in PA. At Hale & True, you can see the fermenting tanks through the glass walls behind the back bar. In addition to featuring seasonally rotating flavors on tap, Hale & True shows off their ciders prominently in several cocktails, making a case for visiting the bar and hanging out rather than just buying cans to take home. In their spritz, Hale & True includes a limited-production clementine aperitivo from Philadelphia Distilling, which provides citrusy bitterness along with their own hopped cider. 613 South 7th Street.
Triangle Tavern, East Passyunk
Select Spritz: Select, prosecco, soda – $9
Triangle Tavern is an unassuming neighborhood bar with good Italian American food and lots of vegan options. Their spritz uses Select, a red aperitivo from Venice that dates back to 1920. It’s naturally colored with carmine beetles (which was traditional for red bitter aperitivo), and therefore does not pair morally with vegan meatballs, but you do you. In terms of intensity, Select tastes like the midpoint between Aperol and Campari. It makes for a spritz that’s a bit more bitter and earthy than one with Aperol. Both brands claim the title of original Spritz ingredient, but more importantly, both make good spritzes. 1338 South 10th Street.
Bok Bar, South Philly
Lo-Fi Spritz: Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, sparkling wine, club soda – $11
Whenever the Mike Landers Philadelphia Drinking Awards (called the Landys) become real and aren’t just in my head, Bok will be the number one contender for “bar with the best view in the city.” Unlike Philly’s other rooftop bars, Bok is far enough South that you get a great view of the skyline. Their spritz uses Lo-Fi amaro, which makes for a dry drink with a floral, strawberry-esque profile. Bok certainly isn’t the only bar in Philly to sell Lo-Fi spritzes (the California company produces several domestic versions of vermouth and amari), but it’s the best place to sit on a beautiful day at sunset. 800 Mifflin Street.
Bloomsday, Head House Square
Crowd Pleaser: Aperitivo, Quinta do Infantado White Port, Cocchi Americano, prosecco – $16
It’s fitting that one of the best wine bars in town uses three wines in their spritz. With the addition of two fortified wines, their spritz is a bit more complicated than most, but it’s still a crusher. The drink is properly called the Crowd Pleaser and it’s a good reminder that a spritz is a better brunch drink than a mimosa. Come try one on your way to the Sunday farmers’ market in Head House Square. It would go well with a breakfast sandwich or some of the best pastries in town. Or come back at night for patatas bravas, or chips and caviar if salty snacking during happy hour is more your spritz speed. If this spritz on the menu, it’s possible a Lillet spritz with rose-poached rhubarb will be. 414 South 2nd Street.
Cry Baby Pasta, Queen Village
Once Bitter, Twice Shy: Contratto Aperitivo, strawberry-artichoke shrub, prosecco – $13
There are three different spritzes on the menu here. And, because I take my work seriously, I tried all three. My favorite was the “Once Bitter, Twice Shy,” which features a strawberry-artichoke shrub. For those who are new to shrubs, you might be imagining some shrubby foliage turned into a drink ingredient. The reality: This is an old preservation method incorporating vinegar and sugar to keep seasonal ingredients longer. The result is a sweet, tart syrup infused with flavors from fruits and vegetables that can last much longer than the fresh ingredients. Cry Baby’s spritz has a bit more tanginess than most of the other spritzes I’ve tried, but it’s in no way overwhelming. (And it changes often.) 627 South 3rd Street.
Gran Caffe L’Aquila, Rittenhouse
Aperol Spritz: prosecco, Aperol, club soda – $10.90 or a carafe for $32.90
If you glance at the place quickly, you might think Gran Caffe L’Aquila is just a gelateria. But it’s so much more — a rare combination of cafe, restaurant, grocery, wine shop and gelateria that normally only exists in Europe. Despite being located a block off of Rittenhouse Square, Gran Caffe L’Aquila feels like it operates in another time and another culture. When I visited, there was a table full of people eating cheese and cured meats while sipping on Aperol spritzes and watching soccer. I drank classic spritzes, and you should too. Throw in some Italian soccer and you’ve got one of the best day-drinking experiences in Center City. 1716 Chestnut Street.
Middle Child Clubhouse, Fishtown
Orange Wine Spritz: bitter aperitif, orange wine, coffee – $13
Like the original Middle Child, its cool older sibling under the El makes some of the best breakfast sandwiches in town. But, unlike the first location, the Fishtown iteration stays open way past lunch and has a liquor license. On the cocktail list, you’ll find cheese in the martini, mushrooms in the Manhattan, and coffee in the spritz. And I promise that anything that seems weird works well, because it’s all there for a reason (not just trying to be unusual). Their spritz, which is light and bubbly and potentially sounds odd, is an outstanding example of how coffee can be used in drinks that aren’t sweet and creamy. 1232 North Front Street.
Mae Phosop: a tropical spritz with lychee, passion fruit, bitter hibiscus & lime leaf – $15
Kalaya also has a new home in Fishtown with a liquor license. It’s still hard to get a table, but if you show up close to 5 p.m., you might get a bar seat. (They save ’em for walk-ins.) The cocktail menu lists flavors rather than bottles, which helps make things more accessible for people who aren’t necessarily drink nerds. One of the most popular drinks on that list, from my very official survey of the bar, is the spritz. It has a hibiscus-and-lime-leaf infusion standing in for Aperol, and feels like you could be enjoying it on a beach. Or at least in a room with palm trees in Philadelphia while you eat plates of shaw muang or gaeng som. 4 West Palmer Street.
Pizzeria Beddia, Fishtown
Forthave Spritz: Forthave red aperitivo, bubbles, zest – $12
The cocktail list at Beddia only features three drinks, but sometimes that’s all you need. Like the pizzas, less is more. Thankfully, one of them happens to be a delicious spritz made a red aperitivo from a craft distillery from Brooklyn that focuses on botanical distillates. Forthave’s “red” is similar to Campari in that it’s higher proof, which makes this spritz one of the bolder, more bitter offerings on the guide. It’s potentially a little too fierce for an already-intense Caesar salad with chicories, but goes great with Beddia’s pizza. 1313 North Lee Street.
Fishtown Social, Fishtown
Aspide Spritz: Aspide, club soda, prosecco – $14
In addition to offering a great selection of natural wine, Fishtown Social serves spritz variations with unique bitter liqueurs. The Aspide spritz uses the bottle of the same name (which is a curious title for a liqueur, as it’s not bubbly, but the Art Deco label easily conveys the purpose of this bottle is for spritzing). Aspide Spritz, the bottle, comes from Sardinia and is billed as a less industrial version of Aperol. Okay, what does that mean for you when you drink the thing at Fishtown Social? It’ll taste more bitter and less sweet than Aperol; and it’s got prominent citrus-peel notes. 1525 Frankford Avenue.