The Smallest Cocktail Bar in the World – BackDoor 43
Blink, and you miss it. If you didn’t know it was there, you would walk straight past the hidden entrance to what is claimed to be the smallest bar in the world in the midst of Milan’s buzzing Navigli district, without a clue of what lies behind the mysterious ‘BackDoor43’. Reserved only for the initiated, this unique, bespoke bar is one of the most discreet cocktail address in the city, undiscovered even by many of the locals who have been unknowingly passing by its front door for years.
Anonymity is the key, and co-owner Flavio Angiolillo is proud to claim that “No other place exists like it in the world”, although the success of his venture alongside business partner Marco Russo has meant that the number of those in the know is growing larger every day. Originally conceived as a mini warehouse to house ice machines for their popular bar ‘Mag’ just close by at 43, Ripa di Porta Ticinese, ‘BackDoor 43’ was initially introduced as a spot where you could order a selection of takeaway cocktails to enjoy on the go while strolling along the canals of the lively movida area.
Passers-by can still avail themselves of this service at the small slot window in the wall to this day, and indeed many do, but in addition the main claim to fame of this great address is that the secret space indoors can also become your own private bar for a 90-minute period. Reservation in advance is indispensable and adds to the mystique of the whole adventure. “Here you enter only if you reserve” is the abiding condition, and bookings are taken by phone or What’s App only two weeks ahead.
IL BAR PIÙ PICCOLO DEL MONDO
The smallest bar in Milan is almost undoubtedly also the most charming: a maximum of four guests at a time are allowed in for each allotted time slot, and turning the key to go through the Alice in Wonderland-like door to pass beyond the taking-no-prisoners “STOP” sign is indeed like entering into something out of a novel. At four square metres, the whole minuscule bar is no bigger than a walk-in wardrobe, but what it intentionally lacks in size it more than makes up for in spirit, if you’ll forgive the pun.
BackDoor 43 makes the most of every single square inch of its dolls’ house space from floor to ceiling. The olde-worlde apothecary shelves are filled to the brim with vintage curiosities and effects, with wall to wall bottles, vials and herbs sitting alongside glass jars and dangling mugs. Antique magnifying glasses and anatomical hands are placed next to wooden frames containing old prints of fish and diagrams of hot air balloons, while there are sepia photos of family groups from times long gone by, and butterflies captured for time immemorial. An antiquated map covers the entire ceiling, just visible with the dimmed lighting above. It’s a heady combination before you even touch a drop of alcohol, and it takes a few minutes to adjust to the strangely intimate yet comforting flavour inside, compared with the hustle and bustle on the busy streets just the other side of the door.
Reinforcing the cloak-and-dagger confidential element of this unique speakeasy set-up, the stylish and anonymous bartender behind the counter bar bears a friendly yet slightly manic ‘V for Vendetta’ mask to hide his face. During the course of our stay the mask does come off, only to be replaced when there is a tap on the wall for someone ordering from the #Streetdrink menu. The rules of the game are very clear : unless you are inside you don’t get to see what’s going on behind the back door, in fact you’re most likely to see the bartender’s hands and not much else. The fourth commandment written on the Stop sign outside clearly forbids anyone from opening the door without permission. It all feels suitably prohibitionist.
There are no do’s and don’ts for the private customer, however, just as there is no set menu. For the next ninety minutes, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to specify the ingredients that go into your cocktails, or place yourselves entirely in the hands of your expert mixologist. Whatever your tipple, the man on the other side of the counter is guaranteed to deliver the goods. Along with countless liqueur bottles and infusions, there are more than 200 individual types of whisky, many of them rare, and whatever concoction is passed to you will be in a suitably classy tall, highball, flute or coupe glass, depending on what you are about to imbibe. The supreme quality of the alcohol is unquestioned, and during your time you’re at liberty to order and drink as much or as little as you want and just soak up the atmosphere. You also get to enjoy the playlists in-house or choose the music that you want to be played as you quaff your drinks. It really doesn’t get any better than this.
A trip to BackDoor 43 should definitely figure on any Bucket List during a visit to Milano. The whole experience at “il bar più piccolo del mondo” is completely enchanting, and has all the style and swagger of times gone by. It’s tempting to keep the secret address under lock and key, but in reality everyone should get to go behind the back door at least once in a lifetime. The likelihood is that you’ll want to sign up for a return visit…
Top tip: be sure to make a visit to powder your nose while you are there – the bathroom is every bit as curated as the main bar area and must not be missed!
BackDoor 43, 43 Ripa di Porta Ticinese on the Navigli, telephone +39.340.962.8890. Open Monday to Saturday from 19:30 to 03:00 every day, bar certain holidays (closed between December 23 and 27, and on January 1 & 2). Time slots 19:30-21:00, 21:00-23:00, 23:00-01:00, 01:00-03:00. Maximum size of group 4 people, takeaway service available every night. For assistance with securing your reservation, contact [email protected]
Credit for all photos reproduced with thanks to BackDoor 43