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Sunday, September 26, 2010

The "Retro Snobs" find themselves with the "in" crowd (and where to find a good lunch)

We’ve been called a lot of things, but “retro snobs” may be the best fit. Imagine our shock – and delight – to find that the tiny no-one-knows-its-name bar some Roman friends took us to turned out to be THE bar of the rich and famous, well, somewhat rich and famous – like Nanni Moretti (for those of you not into Italian cinema, we call him the Woody Allen of Italian film; author/director of Caro Diario (Dear Diary) and also The Son’s Room - the latter won the 2001 Palme d’Or at Cannes).

So here’s how the story beings. Our Roman friends who call us retro snobs invite us to lunch at a bar with no name outside, giving us directions to a corner in Monteverde Vecchio (considered a classy neighborhood, it's above Trastevere). “I think it’s called Bar Vitali,” she says, “but there’s no name – just ‘Bar’ on the sign. On via Lorenzo Valla. Vitali is into history; you'll like him." We arrive to find what we think is the place, but it doesn’t look like a lunch place – just a bar. We inquire and a smiling rounded Italian in his 60s who appears to be the owner gestures through a small door. We peak in, and there are our friends, awaiting us in a small lunch room.

Mario Vitali (right) talks Monteverde Vecchio history
We have a delightful full Italian meal and look at some old photos on the wall (see photo at end of post). The owner, Mario Vitali (in photo left, at right) is an amateur historian, especially of this part of Rome, where his family has lived for multiple generations and his father started with a small tobacco shop in the location. Mario has written a book about the area as well. We pause on the way out and buy his book. He likes our enthusiasm so much, he gives us another – in manuscript copy. The whole lunch and talk with Mario seem very low-key and perfect for us. As we leave and approach our scooter, we pause because we see a great view of the gazometro – across the river in Ostiense, but it seems close from this wonderful hilltop (as in “monte” – a mountain) view (photo below, right). What a great end to this mid-day treat. (And, did we mention we love talking with these friends?)

Gazometro from via Lorenzo Valla
Part two of the story. Imagine our surprise at a dinner party a few weeks later with some friends, in another part of Monteverde Vecchio, when they begin talking about filmmaker Moretti, how he lives in the area and frequents a bar… they describe the bar as being completely nondescript, no name outside, and having almost a hidden lunchroom. Says one friend “you go through a door that looks like it leads to the toilet” “…aaah,” say we, “perhaps we’ve been there…. Bar Vitali?” “YOU, YOU’ve been there? You Americans? How did you find it?” So we take on new luster with our Roman friends.

Old photos and Moretti film posters inside Bar Vitali
Part three of the story. A week or so later we’re telling this story to yet another Roman friend (this one an American who has lived in Rome for 30 years), especially the part about surprising the indigenous Romans that we’ve actually been to this “hidden” place. “Oh,” says he (the American/Roman friend we’re now regaling with the story), “I used to live on via Lorenzo Valla and know that bar. There’s no lunchroom there.” “Oh, yes,” we reply, “indeed there is… through a small door.” “Well,” he says, “I need to go talk to Mario.  I went there every day for morning coffee. And he never told me about the lunch room!”

As Monteverde Vecchio looked before building boom
Part four of the story. We go back to the Roman friends who first introduced us to Bar Vitali and tell them they were conning us into thinking we were going to a nondescript place. They chuckle over all parts of the story.

Ah, the pleasures of being a retro snob in Rome.


1 comment:

Elizabeth Abbot said...

I live on Via Lorenzo Valla, just where you took the photo of the gazometro (you should have stopped by when it was lit up for the "notte bianca" a few years ago). Mario added the lunch area maybe eight or ten years ago, which explains why your friend didn't remember it, and it is true that Nanni Moretti can be spotted having a cappuccino there, and also at the pasticceria on via Barilli, "Desideri".