The aperitivo may be Italian for apéritif or cocktail, but it’s no ordinary happy hour. It’s all about food, friends and la dolce vita – just like Rome itself.
What’s it all about?
Aperitivo is the Italian equivalent of popping into the pub on the way home from work. It’s all about unwinding over a drink and catching up with friends – with a twist.
From about 6pm to 9pm, bars all over Rome (as well as Milan, Florence and many other Italian cities) serve up nibbles to anyone who buys a drink – and we’re not talking pretzels and peanuts. Your first drink may set you back between €8 and €18, but it typically gives you access to a full-blown buffet of hot and cold snacks. Think antipasti (meats, cheeses, olives and the like), pasta dishes, vegetables, salads, sandwiches and other finger food.
In some bars it’s a help-yourself, all-you-can-eat affair and in others a waiter fills your plate. The idea is to graze and tide yourself over until dinner, which is rarely before 8.30pm in Italy. It’s the done thing to take one plate per drink – although this is rarely policed.
What are you favourite places to have an apertivo in Rome? Let us know in the comments
Why is it so Italian?
Unlike happy hour or cocktail hour, it’s not the drinking that drives the sociability of the aperitivo. In spirit, it’s closer to Spain’s tapas, but then the food is far more abundant. It’s uniquely Italian, in fact, because it’s all about eating as an excuse for fun.
Naturally, Romans approach the aperitivo with the same gusto they bring to all things social and culinary, and they’ve truly made the tradition their own. It all began in Milan, however, Italy’s fashion capital, and that probably explains why the aperitivo tradition involves another typically Italian ingredient: style. In Milanese hands, the after-work drink became more than just a chance to unwind – it’s an unmissable event for the young and young-at-heart.
Why should you try it?
For Rome’s glamorous young set, taking aperitivo is about being seen. Choose your aperitivo bar well and you could be rewarded with some of the best people-watching opportunities in town. You’ll feel less of a tourist too because there’s nothing more Italian than sitting, drinking, eating, talking – and watching.
It can also be economic (some aperitivo buffets are so generous that you won’t need dinner later). And it’s the perfect way to unwind after a hard day’s sightseeing under the blazing Roman sun.
Which are the best places?
In Rome, there’s an aperitivo bar to suit everyone. Hip young things favour Freni e Frizione (Via del Politeama 4) and Necci (Via Fanfulla da Lodi 68). You’ll be in for some stunning scenic views, too, if you choose to take aperitivo at Oppio Cafe (Via delle Terme di Tito 72), which overlooks the Colosseum or La Minerve Roof Garden (Piazza della Minerva 69), which surveys Rome’s rooftops from near the Pantheon. For plentiful food and great value for money, you can’t go past Dopiozeroo (Via Ostiense 68). But if you’d happily trade off abundant food for plush surroundings and a fancy cocktail then the 1920s décor of Hotel Locarno (Via della Penna 2) is for you.