When you walk into bar in the United States what do you expect to get served? You expect to walk in, sit on a stool at the bar, and order a beer.
Bars in Italy are a different experience all together. There’s a cultural norm that takes a little while to get used to, but once you find your groove you’ll be hooked.
Location, Location, Location
First thing’s first. Bars are everywhere in Italy. Everywhere. They’re like pharmacies in Florida. They’re on every corner. They’re in every plaza. There are often four of five within a two minute walk of anywhere. This is really not an exaggeration. As an experiment we left our apartment and chose a direction. We walked a few blocks and took a picture of every bar/cafe that we could find. Here’s what we came across:
By my count that’s five different establishments within five minutes in one direction away from our apartment. You’ll surely have some opportunity to find your favorite and I think I missed a picture of one or two places down a small side street!
Bars are also called cafes. So, unlike in the U.S. they serve a variety of purposes. They’re kind of like the whole Italian experience wrapped up into one little shop. You’ve got good coffee, beer, wine, spirits, and Italian food all at your beckon call. The food selection seems to be the same no matter which establishment you find. You’ll get a selection of pasta (with various sauces), pizza, sandwiches, and dessert (many have Gelato).
And of course you can get the drinks you would expect from a bar.
When you walk into your favorite bar you’ll often find an open counter area called “the bench” and a few tables scattered around. Most of the time people drop in for a quick drink at the bench and leave. The odd thing is that this drink is most likely coffee. That’s right, in Italy people gather around the counter and drink espresso or cappuccino. They chat with each other, share a laugh, and enjoy their beverage. After I watched this I started realizing that people never took coffee “to go”. That’s just not done over here. Coffee (espresso, remember?) is quickly enjoyed at the bench or while reading the paper at a table.
So, remember how I mentioned that bars have “the bench” and some tables floating around the place? This is an important distinction when the price of your drink is concerned. Many cafes have a bench vs. table pricing strategy. If you enjoy your drink at “the bench” it may cost one Euro, but if you take it at a table it will set you back 1.20 Euro. Not a huge difference, but they up charge you for taking up more space!
Different prices aside, most bars are cheeeeap. The numbers I gave as an example are actual prices for a nice cappuccino over here in Rome. Expect to pay a little more in the city proper, but nothing like the Starbucks pricing strategy stateside. Coffee isn’t the only thing that comes out cheap in places like this. I’ve found that almost anything Italian is very reasonably priced. A huge Peroni beer? 1.20 Euros. A tall glass of wine? 2.50 Euros.
Well, When in Rome…
Overall the food and experience here in Rome is awesome. If you ever find yourself in this busy metropolis in Italy feel free to open up your inner Italian and stop in for a drink. Lean on the bench, order your favorite coffee, and watch people go by on the street outside. By the time you’re done and saying Caio! you’ll be hooked.
Quartiere XII Gianicolense, Roma, Italy