Quite a bit of ink has been spilled recenty regarding how the cocktail scene has improved in Rome. I don’t know what it was like before but I agree that yes, it is possible to have a cocktail in Rome. Anyone who tells you that the only thing to drink is wine or an Aperol Spritz (not that there’s anything wrong with either of them) is incorrect.
While a great bartender (or mixologist as they’re called today) is key, the atmosphere is just as important. There are some spots where the drinks are good but I cannot get into the vibe and/or décor.
Of course this list is very subjective. Below are the places my friends and I tend to go to time and time again. Not on the list are a few bars some of my younger friends love. To paraphrase Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for that foolishness.” This is a grown folks list.
First up, in alphabetical order, the hotel bars. I’ve heard that back in the day (perhaps 2003?) the best chance for a decent cocktail was at a hotel bar but the prices tend to be higher.
This hotel opened two years ago on the gorgeous Via Giulia. A former convent, the tiny downstairs bar is seriously sexy with its dark greys. They make a great French 75. In warmer months, head upstairs to the lovely rooftop terrace.
Note: On weekend nights, the bar gets very crowded. There’s usually a line (and a list) to get in.
FIRST LUXURY ART HOTEL (rooftop terrace – late spring/summer only)
This rooftop bar off Via Ripetta has one of the best views in the city. A friend of mine had an impromptu birthday aperitivo here and reserved the upper terrace. The views of the sunset were spectacular. We’re still talking about them. The party was in June.
The cocktails here are on another level (price and quality). Twenty-two euros for a drink is outrageous but the garden! You don’t feel as if you’re in the center of Rome but rather at a chic Tuscan villa. Be careful who you have cocktails with in the Hotel de Russie courtyard. I once met an expat friend of a friend who proceeded to order several glasses of champagne at thirty-six euros a glass.
Formerly a building for the architecture school at La Sapienza University, the JK Place is a newish five star hotel. This bar is one of my favorites because of its gorgeous dècor. The library and lobby are drop-dead stunning and full of inspiration. The drinks are great too. And the truffle oil french fries add to the pleasure.
Old school glamour. This is a recent addition to our rotation. My friends and I started going after meeting a friend who was in town for business and staying there. I was impressed with the service and of course my cocktail. I had a Cosmopolitan. Yes, I know folks like to clown women for drinking them, but I really don’t care. I mean it’s not like they’re Appletini (jk). They are delicious and perfect on a warm Roman night.
Via Veneto has a bad rap as a no-man’s land. I think it’s because people are still comparing it to its La Dolce Vita past. Like the St. Regis, I ended up going to the ORVM Bar (located inside the lobby) when I went to meet a friend from Los Angeles who was in town for work. Great service and very responsibly priced for a hotel bar.
The Non-Hotel Spots:
With some of the best bartenders in town, along with Pierluigi, this is the place for hard-core cocktail aficionados. Patrick is outstanding. That said, it’s not snobby but service can be very slow. They have a seasonal drinks menu and the interiors are beautiful.
Speaking of slow service, man this place is tortoise-like but friendly and the views of Piazza Farnese are pretty hard to beat. The drinks here are strong. Pace yourself.
CIAMPINI (Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina)
Another pretty piazza, Ciampini is an excellent place for aperitivi (and people watching). The San Lorenzo church is beautiful and there are several high-end stores in this piazza. Don’t drink and shop.
Located in the residential neighborhood of Parioli, this is a spot for locals but I had to include it because they have one of the most extensive cocktails menus in town. They also have good guacamole. I lived in Los Angeles for ten years before moving to Rome. I do not play when it comes to guacamole. It gets very crowded on weekends and is quite the scene.
Located near Piazza Navona, Etabli is also a restaurant but has a solid cocktail list. In the winter, it’s very charming with a fireplace. During the summer, I appreciate the American level of air conditioning.
While this restaurant in the Monte Verde Vecchio area is known for its deep wine list, they also have fantastic cocktails. Their Hugo is perfection. The bruschetta with tomatoes is addictive.
Their small bar is one of my favorite places for a well-made classic cocktail and when feeling adventurous, I will ask Fabrizio to surprise me. I almost had to cross it off my list for life when a friend went up to actor Owen Wilson (who was speaking with Fabrizio) and told him she thought he was fabulous.
Excellent drinks. Has been open since 2004 and still draws a crowd. Located on Piazza di Pietra and facing the Temple of Hadrian, this bar was a must when I was a tourist. Somehow we “forgot” about it and started going again last year.
Note: If you sit outside, especially earlier in the evening, they will ask you to pay as soon as your drink arrives. There are tons of tour groups passing through. It’s not very relaxing. We prefer to go later or sit inside.
Located near the Vatican this restaurant has a lively aperitivi scene which spills out into the street. I usually have to order a trappizino (or two). Get there early if you want an outdoor table.
This popular local spot in Prati, near Piazza Mazzini, makes an excellent dry martini (per my one friend who drinks them). They also make a great Hugo too.
Arlene Gibbs is a decorator, writer, and recovering Hollywood film executive.
Born in New York City to parents from the French/Dutch Caribbean island of St. Martin, Arlene (and her French passport) has found her home in Rome.
Arlene co-wrote the hit Hollywood film “Jumping the Broom” (aka Amore e Altri Guai in Italian) and was VP of production and development for several high profile actors/directors. She has written travel articles about Italy and the Caribbean for Fathom magazine. Arlene is currently working on interior design projects in Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Anguilla, British West Indies.