The eternal city of Rome didn’t have a reputation for cocktails until later than other cities of its stature. Now it’s firing on all cylinders and Rome is a city everybody should include on their grand European mixology tour.
The Eternal City? For cocktails, Rome for a long time seemed more like the Rookie City. Schlocky highballs and quick fixes were the norm, with aperitif culture king in a city prone to drinking – but not attuned to the high standards of international mixology.
It was in 2009, with the opening of the Jerry Thomas Project, that craft cocktails really begun to emerge. “This shook up the Roman bar scene and brought new lifeblood to the city,” says says Matteo Zed, a Roman native, known for his work at bars including New York’s Zuma and Blacktail at Pier A, and alongside none other than Hidetsugu Ueno at Tokyo’s Bar High Five. “It started a cocktail and bar golden age that begun in Rome and then spread to the whole of Italy.”
The rejuvenation of Roman cocktail culture has continued apace since then. Here are the top five bars in Rome, according to the industry insiders who know it best.
Jerry Thomas Project: all systems go
Where else could we start? Named after the arguable harbinger of modern cocktail culture, the Jerry Thomas Project did exactly the same for Rome. A speakeasy in the traditional sense: it has a fan in Jan Warren, Dutch Kills bartender and strident Rome defender, who praises its drinks and its’ “hyper-controlled crowd”.
The Jerry Thomas experience is an optimized one, letting only 30-40 guests in at a time and requiring a password for your entrance. There’s a 5 euro membership fee to boot. To gain entrance a recent question asked: What is the edition of “Bartender’s Guide” where Jerry Thomas publishes for the first time the recipe for Vermouth Cocktail?
It’s this spare no effort attention to your experience – and its drinks – which has seen Jerry Thomas lead the way since its 2010 opening. One other thing. They have a list of witty rules to obey when at the bar, but one caught our eye. Jerry Thomas is certifiably a no vodka joint.
Club Derriere – in front
Rising the Roman ranks – nowhere near the bottom – lies Club Derriere. A dimly-lit Jazz bar at the back of the traditional Osteria delle Coppelle trattoria, it’s a vintage-inspired den of delights. Details include some knights armour, toilets hidden behind a bookcase, and a beautiful golden-lit bar.
Again in the Speakeasy vibe, Matteo Zed praises its classy and well-adorned team and its young brilliant Head Bartender Gian Paolo Di Pierro for their “beautiful vibes”. Jan Warren too loves the “saturday night madness” on display, which dovetails nicely with its excellent drinks program.
Freni e Frizione – casual and cool
A more casual, yet much-loved entry, is the fantastic Freni e Frizione, translated as the “brakes and clutches” and recommended by Mauro Mahjoub – the “King of Negroni” and Brand Ambassador at Campari Deutschland. He describes it as a “modern, lively and absolutely welcoming bar”. Located in the ever-hip neighbourhood of Trastevere, expect craft beers and wines to go alongside its craft cocktail program.
The old garage is also famous for its aperitivo buffet every day from 19.00 to 22.00, although things go on later until typical closing time around 2am. A large terrace makes this also a spot for hot summer nights.
Stravinskij Bar – permanent quality
The Hotel de Russie is a well-heeled hotspot for the jetset, but the Stravinskij Bar extends far past the “see and be seen” factor. Most specifically, a carefree aperitif on their outside piazza is a joy to behold, adorned with iron chairs and a lush private garden.
“It’s one of the few bars in Rome that instead of losing stimulation and basking in its successes has continued to improve, offering their customers a fantastic service and wonderful drinks,” says Matteo Zed.
Caffè Propaganda – the zinc bar
Caffè Propaganda proves one thing: being in the shadow of a prime tourist attraction doesn’t necessarily equal a dismal dining and drinking experience.
Located in the shadows of the Colosseum, Propaganda appears to be a traditional place, but cranked up to modern standards. Until recently it had one of Rome’s prime bartending sons, Patrick Pistolesi – previously of (the also excellent) Barnum – working behind the classic zinc bar. Hype since then has grown massively.
That’s not all. Light lunch meals, praised by Mauro Mahjoub, make this the perfect midday pitstop, whilst there’s a winery curated by sommeliers Valerio Capriotti and Maurizio Bistocchi for those more vino partial. Ignore the name, Caffe Propaganda ain’t spinning no untruths.