Bar magazine editor Mark Ludmon checks out the cocktail scene in Rome
From the “Maestro” Salvatore Calabrese and Peter Dorelli to young stars such as Simone Caporale at London’s Artesian Bar, some of the best bartenders working in the UK come from Italy. So, when I visited the Italian capital of Rome, my expectations were high. However, while you can get a decent Negroni in most café-bars and restaurants, the city has few destinations for cocktail innovation.
Hotel bars remain the most reliable place to find a well-made cocktail. My best experience was at the Stravinskij Bar (pictured top) at Rocco Forte’s historic five-star Hotel de Russie off the Piazza del Popolo. Its extensive drinks list features spritzes and sparkling cocktails and twists on the classics, including a list of Margaritas.
Cocktails include Camillo’s Ghost (pictured above) – named after the count who invented the Negroni – which mixes gin with Martelletti vermouth and Italian aperitif Biancosarti. One of my friends enjoyed the refreshing Taj Breeze (pictured below), mixing gin with coconut water, fresh ginger and soda water, with dustings of coconut on the glass.
Alongside the bar and lounge, there is a beautiful outside terrace with its own bar where we enjoyed impeccable service while Hollywood star Sean Penn and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters sat drinking nearby.
One bar shaking up the cocktail scene in Rome is the Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, a backstreet cocktail bar in Vicolo Cellini near Chiesa Nuova. Inspired by 1920s Prohibition bars, it is part of The Jerry Thomas Project and offers cocktails based on recipes in the 1862 book The Bon Vivant’s Companion by American bartender Jerry Thomas.
While classics such as a Sazerac are always available, the list is changed twice a month. Recipes have included a Frisco Rickey, mixing a London dry gin with lemon juice, red grapefruit juice, Angostura Bitters and ginger beer, and the San Francisco, combining bourbon, lavender syrup, lemon juice and Cynar.
The bar (pictured above) is run by a passionate team including Leo Leuci, Roberto Artusio, Antonio Parlapiano and Alessandro Procoli. Launched in 2009, it is open 11pm to 4am Tuesday to Sunday and, as you officially need a password to get in, you may want to ring ahead on the numbers at www.thejerrythomasproject.it.
Decent cocktails can be found at other bars dotted around Rome. In the bohemian Trastevere district, Freni E Frizioni (pictured below) in the Piazza Politeama has been created in a former auto repair shop. With a laid-back interior of vintage furniture and contemporary art and an outside patio, it offers a good range of cocktails.
Also in Travestere is another lively bar, Café Friends, with an industrial-style interior and contemporary artwork. The drinks list features party cocktails and twisted classics such as a Camomile Gin Fizz and a Smoked Bloody Mary. With its outside terrace overlooking Piazza Trilussa, it is an ideal way to watch the late-night crowds while sipping the ubiquitous Negroni.
The visit to Rome, including all drinks, was paid for by the writer.