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– FASHION FRONTIERS: Living a fashion-brand lifestyle is easy in Milan, where many houses have expanded their empires with eateries, bars and hotels. Often spotted sipping a cocktail at his bar, Nobu, Giorgio Armani will open his first hotel on Via Manzoni next year. Bulgari Hotel’s garden is the place to drink a balsamic vinegar-spiked Bloody Mary at sunset, and its spa offers the best four-handed massage in town. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana gave Milan’s nightlife a shot of glamour when they opened Gold, a gilded temple housing two restaurants and two bars. The design duo also recently refurbished their alfresco Martini cocktail bar behind their men’s store on Corso Venezia. Trussardi recently reopened its cafe next door to La Scala, which features a pair of growing vertical garden walls designed by Patrick Blanc. Its upstairs restaurant, Trussardi alla Scala, won a Michelin star last year. Prada, meanwhile, is eschewing the hospitality industry for art, and plans to open a contemporary gallery in the city by 2011.
– ART OF APERITIVO: To the Milanese, aperitif isn’t just a predinner drink and bowl of peanuts. Aperitivo is a cocktail hour or two, starting from 6:30 p.m., where drinks are accompanied by a free buffet — usually chips, olives, bruschetta, pasta, salamis and cheeses. Every bar in the city serves its version of aperitivo, but Bar Basso on Via Plinio 39 patented its own drink for the popular Milan pastime: The negroni sbagliato, a mix of Campari, vermouth and Champagne, is served in a fishbowl-size glass with a hunk of ice and an orange slice. Like every Italian city, Milan has regional dishes. Favorites show the city’s Northern European influences, from fried and breaded veal cutlet, or cotoletta, to buttery saffron-rich risotto alla Milanese, often served with slowly cooked veal casserole osso buco.
– LEONARDO’S LEGACY: Milan’s most famous — and arguably only — historical attraction pinpoints the center of the city. The Duomo, a wedding cake of a Gothic cathedral that was recently unveiled from a decadelong makeover, is best viewed over a glass of Chianti from La Rinascente’s bar on the eighth floor. White marble used to construct the church was floated down the Navigli — the city’s canals. Today, the southern canal district is a hotbed of bars, vintage and design stores. Meanwhile, Leonardo da Vinci left his imprint on Milan with his iconic “Last Supper,” or “L’Ultima Cena,” painted on a wall of a former dining hall next to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Advance reservations are required to see the masterpiece.