To understand Rome, you must understand the unspoken schedule that everyone, whether resident or not, follows. We have a quick caffè and pastry in the morning, enjoy a sometimes long and always chatty lunch, meditate with our mid-afternoon shot of espresso and by 5 pm, we are already thinking about our early evening aperitivi.
The aperitivo is the peaceful pause before dinner during the secondo pomeriggio, the second afternoon. It is the end of a long day or the start to evening, and to the inventive, thrifty and social minded, the aperitivo is a faux dinner and social respite. By definition, the aperitivo is a light cocktail like prosecco (bubbling wine), spritz, Negroni, Campari and Pirlo, accompanied by stuzzichini (appetizers) from taralli (Pugliese pretzels), olives and bruschetta, to tartlets and tapas dishes. Stuzzichini and drinks vary depending on what region you are in. For example, Venetian and Roman aperitivi are apples and oranges. The Venetian spritz has yet to be duplicated to perfection in Rome, and Negronis are a featured facet to the evening. While in Rome, prosecco dominates the menu line up, followed by wines and then cocktails. And Romans love their pizzette, mini-pizzas to the layman.
Aperitivi can be cosmopolitan or provincial, old-fashioned or cutting edge, where the undeniably hip and not-so-hip chitchat over a drink and hors d’oeuvres. No matter what, the aperitivo hour is always civilized and definitely before dinner. Bars and locali hosting aperitivi are found in every neighborhood making the late afternoon pause a three dimensional snapshot of the city’s social scene, customs and fashion. There are only three requirements for the evening aperitivo in Rome: impeccable bartender, delicious stuzzichini and sublime view. Rome’s social scene centers around its piazze and views, so once these three conditions are met, the hours between 6:30 and 8:30 pm are guaranteed to be perfect.
- 5th Floor Terrace at the Palazzetto, Piazza Trinità di Monti, 06 699341000, The Palazzetto’s 5th floor terrace wins the trifecta—excellent drinks, tasty stuzzichini and amazing view of the city’s domes and rooftops, from a rooftop balcony overlooking Piazza di Spagna. The balcony is open from noon to late in the evening. Best is to stand in Piazza di Spagna and look up– then head up the steps.
- Stravinskij Bar at Hotel de Russie, via del Babuino 9, 06 32 88 88 74, Perhaps the best, and most expensive, drinking hole in Rome, the Stravinsky Bar is a snapshot of 21st century dolce vita. Fashionable people, fantastic (and yes, finger licking) appetizer menu and the very fabulous French Mojito.
- Gusto*, Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9, 06 6 322 6273 This small empire of restaurants at Piazza Augusto Imperatore (Gusto, its emporio, Osteria della Frezza, wine bar and Gusto al 28) has a wonderful aperitivo buffet at the Osteria. Though lacking in view, the Osteria makes up for it in buffet, creative cocktails and people watching. At 28, the drinks come with a view of the Augustus Caesar mausoleum. Unfortunately, the piazza is undergoing some restructuring.
- Freni e Frizioni, via Politeama 4, 06 5833 4210, A favorite evening starter in Trastevere, Frizioni e Frizioni rests on a street level balcony between the very busy Lungotevere (street running along the Tiber river) and Trastevere’s side alleys. Many come for the cocktails and buffet, but its the conversations here that set your evening on fire. Dubbed Rome’s Boho enclave.
- Etablì*, vicolo delle Vacche 9, 06 97616694 As Madonna would say, Etablì gives good face. The indoor lounge bar has a rustic Provencal vibe and excellent music to go with the aperitivo. Last time I looked, there was an very welcome list of French champagnes on the menu wall.
*Note: Some aperitivo spots are also open for the morning merenda, coffee and cake snacktime. Take advantage.
Photo credits: Gusto by Eternally Cool, Hotel de Russie, Freni e Frizioni, Etablì, Il Palazzetto.