January 10


Cocktail Culture in Italy

By Rick

January 10, 2020

The delightful sound of the clink of ice in a glass.”

So begins a recent post by my friend Gillian Maguire, and right away my attention piqued. Not unlike Pavlov’s dog, I simply cannot resist this sirens’ call to Happy Hour in Rome (or anywhere else, for that matter).

For those of us enamored by cocktail culture in general, it’s not just the drinks or the clink of ice. It’s the background chatter, the stir of the crowd, the smell of the bar (for better or worse), the mood lighting that’s just so. The entire vibe; an ambiance, and every watering hole is unique in its way. And Rome certainly has no shortage of these charming venues to indulge our fantasies.

What’s more, the particular cocktail culture in Italy is alluring to the tourist or expat for so many reasons. It is at once simple yet complex. There are unfamiliar rituals, strange potions that you’ve never seen before, and brand names that you can’t pronounce. You must be privy to a few “secrets” if you want to do it correctly. That’s where Gillian comes in. 

Gillian and I are kindred “spirits.” (Ha! That just came out, I swear.) Once, while on a blog tour, we teamed up with a few other bloggers at a poolside bar in Sicily, where we proceeded to exhaust the entire wine cellar of our host. Our wine-addled conversation can be heard on Episode 30 of my podcast

Besides wine, she loves an obscure gin served in a pretty glass just as much a Campari spritz at her local bar. Bookmark this guide to cocktails in Rome, courtesy of Gillian Maguire, of Gillian’s Lists. You could throw a proverbial dart at this list, and wherever it lands, you will not go wrong.

The iconic Harry's Bar in Rome. Just because...

Pro Tip: When in doubt, always order a Negroni. #gillianknowsbest #Campari #cocktails #Rome #Italy
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​Cocktail Culture in Italy

If a piazza view is what you are after then it’s easy, says Gillian. Pick any bustling piazza, find a café with a place to sit, and order something simple like a Spritz or a Negroni. You will almost always get a small plate of snacks to go with your drink (it’s barbaric to drink on an empty stomach, after all). Her favorite piazzas for cocktails are Piazza Madonna dei Monti and Piazza FarneseGreat people watching.

But when she wants a more dramatic view, or an upgraded snack, or a really fancy cocktail, this is where she goes (and her photos to help guide your imagination):

Since she doesn’t have a terrace or much of a view from her house when she wants a glimpse of the Forum or the Colosseum she heads a few doors down to the @hotelforumroma. The space is a little small, so get here early if you want to catch the sunset. It’s an irresistible old-fashioned Roman vibe.

You will literally gasp when the elevator doors open at @secretviewroma The view over Trajan’s Forum & Column is extraordinary. The drinks are creative and the small plates refined. Call ahead for the best spots next to the church domes.

​The art deco lobby at @bettoja_hotel_roma is divine. Go all the way to the back where you will find the alabaster topped Bar 21.

@baccanoroma is just around the corner from the Fontana di Trevi. There is a long bar to sit at, an ever changing menu of cocktails, and one of the best hamburgers in Rome.

@zumarome is a very stylish place which makes perfect sense since it is on top of the Palazzo @fendi near the Spanish Steps and Via del Corso. The inspired cocktails have an Asian flair and the Japanese small plates are superb.

Stop in at the long bar at @vytaenotecalazio after the long walk of you Christmas shopping, or on a hot summer afternoon. The snacks include delicious things like cheese and cured meat that are all sourced locally in Lazio.

Sunset view of Il Vittoriano

Spritz Campari!

Pro Tip: pack a few @niococktail in your carry-on and you can have a perfectly mixed drink on your next flight or train trip.

Two final pieces of advice: Ask for your drink senza cannuccia (without a straw), and when in doubt, always order a Negroni.

Gillian Maguire

Yes, my friends, #gillianknowsbest with regards to aperitivo, the slightly more sophisticated Italian version of Happy Hour. When in Rome, don’t hesitate to look her up at Gillian's Lists to make the best of your time in The Eternal City. She even offers trip planning services over a cocktail (or coffee, if you prefer). 


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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • Nice list. I’ll definitely be checking out the ones in Rome in a few months. We used to find ourselves at the tourist traps – like those around Campo dei Fiori. There are so many nicer places just a few blocks away, where the locals hang out.

    • Thanks Gary. Yep, I’ve fallen into my share of traps, as well. And we hear about it on the news once in a a while; the tourists who paid 80 Euros for two cappuccinos and a gelato. Gillian has lived in Rome for a long time and really knows the locals’ spots.

    • Oh, that’s because the low-cost flights around Italy/Europe and the regional trains don’t often offer beverage services… so BYO or go without!

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