When I moved to Rome nearly a dozen years ago, I was hardly a sophisticated drinker, but even my younger, recently graduated self cringed at Rome’s drinking options: low alcohol, high acid, tooth-enamel-threatening trash like Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer, bad mojitos, Heineken, Peroni and only a handful of remotely interesting wine bars. The city’s main drinking destinations—Trastevere, Ostiense, Testaccio and Campo de’ Fiori—were bastions of mediocrity.
Even just a few years ago, the prospect of finding craft cocktails and artisanal wines in one place was unthinkable. But things have begun to evolve—slowly. Romans who have gone abroad to travel or find work have returned with changed palates, new skills and a real desire to drink well and share their discoveries with others.
On the cocktail front, the opening of The Jerry Thomas Project in 2010 signaled a major change. With space for just 35 in its single, password-protected room on the ground floor of a 500-year old building in the historical center of Rome, it became the city’s first, serious craft cocktail bar. Over the past four years, the mustachioed staff has poured stellar pre-Prohibition-era classic cocktails, while simultaneously developing their own inspired drinks and style.
The slow creep of a serious cocktail culture has even reached the hotel bar. While Rome’s hotel watering holes once appealed mainly to tourists after a stiff drink, places like the newly opened D.O.M. Hotel—with its rooftop bar overlooking an ancient Roman archaeological site still under excavation—are attracting a well-heeled Roman audience in search of sophisticated flavors. Built within the walls of a 15th-century palace, D.O.M. typifies the constant shift and juxtaposition between Rome’s new, old and very, very old.
But Litro, which opened late last year, provides perhaps the most convincing proof of Rome’s improved drinking scene. Essentially a neighborhood café, Litro serves snacks and drinks all day long in the quiet residential district of Monteverde Vecchio. But it also happens to sport central Italy’s largest mezcal list, as well as a varied collection of natural wines. As such, it’s become a place not only for great food, but the rare bar that offers great wine and great cocktails in one place.
Across town in the quiet, local Monti neighborhood, La Barrique offers a similar list of natural and artisanal wines, as well as a full menu of cold and hot dishes. It’s a place that attracts mostly “Monticiani” (Monti dwellers), but in any other city La Barrique’s collection of Italian, French and Austrian wines would be worth crossing town for.
While the improved options for cocktails and wine have become part of a growing trend, nothing matches Rome’s craft beer boom. Across the Tiber, in Trastevere, Manuele Colonna’s pub, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà (Macchè for short), which opened in 2001, has become a beacon for the movement. A diehard beer enthusiast—his catchphrase is quanno moro vojo esse fermentato (“when I die I want to be fermented”)—Colonna and his crew were among the first to reject European industrial brews, providing craft alternatives and cultivating a beer drinking subculture. Macchè’s location in Trastevere, a center of Roman nightlife, has allowed them to bring their message to a larger audience.
In an effort to show just how far Rome’s drinking scene has come, I hit the cobblestones with Daniel Krieger one Saturday night to introduce him to the city’s avant-garde, from Monteverde to Monti.
Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà | Via Benedetta 25
Go for: Italian sour ales, small batch Franconian beers, limited edition domestic and international brews.
D.O.M. Hotel | Via Giulia 131
Go for: Cocktails at sunset at the rooftop bar.
Litro | Via Fratelli Bonnet 5 (Monteverde Vecchio)
Go for: A mezcal cocktail, a rotating list of spumanti sur lie, boozy sorbets made to order.
La Barrique | Via del Boschetto 41b
Go for: Outrageously affordable bottles of natural wines from Italy and France and an ample wines by the glass list.
The Jerry Thomas Project | Vicolo Cellini 30
Go for: Pre-Prohibition inspired drinks, punch of the day, vermouth cocktails.