The Warren Column: Roaming Rome

07 December, 2017

Jan Warren falls in love with Italy’s capital – and its treasure trove of cocktail bars

ROME. THE ETERNAL CITY. It has stood on seven hills and the banks of the Tiber for thousands of years. Monuments in stone, brick and ancient mortar grace every cobblestoned street. At night the city is bathed in amber light and takes on an Elysian glow, only comparable to late night New York after a hard summer rain, streets shiny with a rainbow of reflected lights. Crossing Rome’s ancient bridges, you look down at the lazy river – itself a highway of commerce in antiquity – slide darkly beneath your feet. It is hard to imagine that anything would impress in these superlative surroundings, but Rome, your cocktail bars are a delight.

In the early evening, you might go to Freni e Frizioni, a smallish bar with a sprawling courtyard full of Romans enjoying the aperitivo hour, and watch the light soften to red gold as the sun sets slowly over the old city. You can buy a drink and grab a free nibble here, choosing from around 20 dishes on offer every night. Needless to say, this place is immensely popular with students and artists. For my part, I asked for a Cynar & soda, and was presented with an elegant glass garnished with an orange wedge and a sprig of rosemary. As I got my beak into it, I found the warm scent of rosemary a perfect complement to the artichoke bitter.

Walking north through the Campo de’ Fiori, and slightly west, you come upon the incredibly warm and friendly Barnum. It presents visually like a normal Roman street bar but, with an eye cocked towards the spirits on display, it’s easy to tell you are in a special place. This was a neighbourhood bar. Simple, no frills, serving food, juice, cocktails and coffee all day. It kind of felt like an idealised Italian pub – totally relaxed but with excellent drinks. My friend had a beautiful Bobby Burns variation here.

A few blocks away, in a small side street, you come upon a black door with a bronze placard emblazoned with the name Prof Jerry Thomas in a delicate script. You ring a bell and wait, then that brass nameplate is swung inward and a disembodied mouth asks you for the password. You panic. You had no idea there WAS a password. It’s OK, though. The gracious host/bartender Camilla still finds a few seats for you after a short wait. You are sat at a small table with two couples. Thankfully, the staff are incredibly gracious and so are your tablemates. You have a great time, completely transported into a speakeasy fantasy land via music, look and some completely delicious cocktails.

Last, but certainly not least, comes Club Derrière. I ate at an excellent restaurant called Retrobottega twice in three days while I was in Rome (thanks to a recommendation from Camilla at Jerry Thomas) and, after the first dinner, one of the chef/owners suggested I stop in at Club Derrière, just a few blocks away. I got to the door at 21:50 and the bar didn’t look open. I was told the bar opened at 22:00, and I asked if I should just wait outside. The staff were kind enough to let me and my friend sit at the bar while they finished opening up, and I got some quiet and private time at one of the coolest bars I saw on my trip. The menu was set up as an homage to mythological or epic characters, and had some incredibly interesting drinks on it. My friend settled on the Leblon James, a cachaça drink with some coffee flavours, and loved it so much he tried ordering it all over Italy. I was knocked out by some of the David Arnold-esque use of molecular technique. Acid-balanced pineapple juice was among my favourites.

Rome. I can’t wait to get back and spend a week with you.

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