The world's smallest bar opened just a little over a year ago in Milan, but these days, it takes at least two weeks to land a spot inside. At Backdoor bar, the rules are simple: you've got two hours to drink fancy cocktails, and there can only be up to four people inside at the time. No exceptions. The rules are strict, so if you try to break them, you'll kindly be asked to find a drink at one of the many bars around Milan's Navigli area.
Wooden walls covered in thick bottles and baroque memorabilia wrap around the heavy counter and the stylishly dressed bartender.
Carlo, the bartender, is waiting behind the counter with a bearded smile and large, thick hands that seem purposely built to crush large chucks of ice.
"I have seen it all from behind the counter," he tells me, pointing at the tiny space in which he mixes what are considered some of Italy's best cocktails. "People come in, feel at home, and they take their shoes off if they want to, select the music playlist, and relax." Backdoor feels more like my own living room than an actual bar.
Besides the unique atmosphere, the bar is known for whisky. I ask Carlo to make me a whiskey sour. "You see this?" he tells me holding a large ice cube to my face: "It's from Japan and it's the best ice in the world. There are absolutely no impurities in it and the taste of the cocktail gets to you just as it is; there are no intermediaries. It also doesn't melt for a long time, so there's no risk of that watered-down taste."
As he mixes the egg white into the cocktails, someone knocks from the outside. "We are going to have fun," he tells me while puts on a V for Vendetta mask and opens a small window to his right. The people outside looked surprised. All they see is a hole in the wall with a mask sticking out.
"Can we order?" a twentysomething from southern Italy asks with an excited voice.
"Well, it's a bar," Carlo answers with the voice of someone who has made the same joke before.
"OK, two whiskies and Coke."
"Just a minute and I'll be with you," he says, shutting the dark wooden window again.
Sitting inside, we hear the group of youngsters excitedly talking about the place. "I wonder what is inside," one asks. "Probably a brothel," the other answers.
The whiskey sour is the best I've have had. I sip my cocktail and fall silent. It's just me, the photographer, and the bartender inside, but I feel no pressure to leave. Everything about Backdoor is relaxing: the photos of 19th-century unknown strangers on my right, the collection of spices behind the bartender, the rug under my feet. We play Chet Baker on Spotify.
The idea of a tiny bar came randomly to the young owner, Flavio. He had already opened Mag, another of Milan's favorites. Flavio, a French man who moved to Milan, was trying to find a solution to Mag's main expense: ice.
When the small artist studio next to the bar became available, Flavio decided it could be the perfect ice room. Instead of buying expensive ice, the plan way to buy a refrigerator, start making ice, and cut the cost.
The plan worked, but with time the ice room became stacked with bottles and began to look like a bar.
One day, one of the bars partners asked, "Why don't we make a bar out of it?" Flavio agreed, and Backdoor was born.
As we chat, Carlo tells me how the place often becomes a confessional for drunks. "I am stuck behind the bar and I can't escape, so sometimes customers just tell me way too much."
He continues: "I have seen a guy propose. Then there is a girl who comes here often who just lays down, orders a cocktail, and stares at the ceiling. Drunk couples often try to convince me it's OK for them to go to the bathroom to have sex. But I obviously say no."
Time's up. Two hours have gone by without me even realizing it. I think about asking for a bit more time, but it's of no use. There is a couple coming in right after me and they are already knocking on the small wooden front door. They are regulars and can't wait for their two intimate hours with great whiskey cocktails.
I ask for the next available slot—it's two weeks from now. I'll have to wait a while.