An Italian Bar Is not a Bar

For a month or so, I’ve talked so much about going to bars in Rome that you probably think I’m an alcoholic. Well, I do like my vino and prosecco, and a Spritz Aperol is downright delicious, but when I talk about going to bars in Rome, I’m not talking about Red’s Tavern, which used to be a dive in Charleston, Oregon, when I was growing up (is Red’s still there?), or a fancy bar in a five-star hotel.

Bars in Rome serve all kinds of drinks, including your favorite coffee drink, wine, liquor, sodas, aqua (naturale or frissante), Sanbittèr Rosso—you name it, you can probably buy it in a bar. You can also order pastries or panini (sandwiches), and some bars, like Caffé Farnese, even sell gelato.

In Caffé Farnese, I see the same people again and again, which isn’t surprising, because in Italy, bars serve as neighborhood social centers. Italians may visit their local bar several times a day—for morning coffee, a cool or hot drink in the afternoon, and a cocktail in the evening.

If you’re traveling on a tight budget in Italy, don’t sit at a table inside or outside the bar, because you’ll pay more for that privilege. My small cup of cappuccino costs about $5 when I drink it at an outside table, and the cup holds maybe a half cup of liquid—definitely not a venti! I’d never dream of drinking it anywhere else, because once you sit down, the table is yours for as long as you want it, and you have endless opportunities to watch people (or trash trucks), my favorite pastime.

L’Angolo Divino enoteca

Some of my favorite bars in Italy are specialty bars called enoteca—wine bars. Wine bars offer a selection of wines by the glass or bottle, and some sell appetizers. We’ve been looking for a wine bar in our neighborhood and hadn’t seen any until stores began opening again in September (hallelujah!). We rounded a corner after shopping this morning and spotted a wine bar just a block south of Piazza Farnese. So we raced home, dumped our groceries, and sped back to the wine bar for lunch. This wine bar had quite an extensive menu, including huge salads, cannelloni, a cheese plate, and the best alici marinate (anchovies marinated in oil and lemon juice) we’ve had so far in Rome. Even though it was hot outside, it was dark, cool, and restful in the wine bar.

The first enoteca we visited in Rome was near our hotel in Cavour. I don’t know what wine I had, except that it was an excellent dry rosé, but I remember my first bite of tarallini, the Italian biscuits served with the wine. These tiny biscuits—an inch or so in diameter—look like baby doughnuts and are made with wine, flour, sugar, baking powder, and olive oil. Tarallini have the consistency of a fat cracker and taste a bit salty and a bit sweet. They’re perfect with wine, and we always have a package in our cupboard. Because we eat so late in the evening here—8:30 or 9—I usually need a snack around 5 or 6, and I head for the tarallini. They’re one of my favorite treats in Rome.

So see you at the bar! Dibs on the tarallini!


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