Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Coffee Bars, Pigneto: So Near, Yet So Far

One of the first things we do when arriving in a new Rome neighborhood is to find "our" coffee bar--one we like.  We prefer the fancy, old-fashioned bars with lots of wood, staffed with old guys with coats who have been there for years, maybe an on-site bakery for an especially fresh cornetto.  But we'll take a place that's not so old or fancy, one that makes a good caffè americano and has something like "atmosphere." (Ten years ago we wrote about this hunt in another neighborhood!)

Usually the find-the-coffee-bar process plays out in a couple of days. But in Pigneto--Pigneto Nuovo, the Pigneto east of the tracks--where we landed about two weeks ago, it took well beyond a week. Here's why.

Zazie nel metro (named for the French book and film)
Zazie-nel-metro bar looked like a winner, if an odd one.  More like a 1960s coffee house than a Roman bar, it was close to our apartment, plenty of no-charge tables, a guy maybe writing a screenplay, women customers to make Dianne comfortable.  Because it wears its radical politics on its sleeve, we call it "FREE PALESTINE BAR."  Service was OK, but the coffee?  Not so good.  You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and you can't change how a barista makes a cup of coffee.

What looks like a customer - the lone person in there - is
actually the barista.
An even closer bar was a new, modernist space just down the street. It's got the unlikely name of Apluvio: La Puglia Che Piace (the Puglia [a southern province known for its food] you like.  What?  No one is ever inside the place, but we tried it anyway. The barista, a gaunt 20-something, seemed flummoxed at the idea of making an Americano, let alone serving customers, and called to the back for a woman. She showed him how to make the Americani, then left him alone!  Not enough action here for us.  We have a name for this bar we can't share.

Early on we found what we call TEA BAR, because it serves tea and has a tea-room look and feel, serves pancakes and bacon on Sundays (!), all of which is not for us.  In addition, when we asked for a caffè americano, we got brewed American-style coffee that had been sitting in the pot, rather than espresso with hot water.  That's a new one, and not a good one.

Onto a rather ordinary bar on busy via Prenestina.  The name is Bar Malu'. Nothing fancy but very Roman and a few tables to inhabit while reading the newspaper. Enticing in part because of the newsstand right outside it - we buy a Rome newspaper every day.  Some very Roman guys sitting in a corner to lend the place that certain authenticity.  Except those Roman guys were talking so loud--really yelling at each other, though in good spirits--that we couldn't think straight.  Woman comes up, starts talking to them, we think she'll help modulate the conversation, but she's yelling, too.  Coffee's OK, but this is now known as LOUD GUYS BAR.

Next morning we head out to a busy avenue a few blocks to the east and south--a middle-class neighborhood, more upscale than our own. We strike it rich: a new, modern, hip bar with its own excellent bakery, down the street from our place, full of wealthier types taking pictures of their tiny cute dogs.

Tables outside under a perfect canopy of trees. It goes by the name of Fattori.  Dianne, seeker of (at least some) luxury and style, is in heaven. BUT the coffee is cold--or rather not hot enough.  On this we agree.  We think it might have something to do with the setting on the high-tech electronic espresso machine.  Hoping that the setting will be different the next day, we return.  Still not hot enough.  After 20 years in Rome, this is a new problem.  We explain our concern to the barista--a woman--who seems not to take it seriously.  We do not return. We call this bar TRENDY BAR or COLD COFFEE BAR.

Fattori - always busy, communal tables, very hip, great pastries.
We reject any bar that's a big hangout for men, especially old men--and Rome is full of older men, most of them "pensionati"--retired.  They commandeer the tables outside and smoke.  Here's an example, on via Prenestina, of an OLD MEN'S BAR, or, at this hour, a MEN's BAR.

Now we are in trouble.  We've been trying a coffee bar a day and still have not settled on a bar.  How will we establish ourselves in our new neighborhood.  Never fear.  There are more bars to try.  We've been eyeing a place not far from TRENDY BAR.  The name outside is Sami Bar.  It has tables outside (but no trees and no umbrellas) and some decent seating inside--and customers.

The three folks running the bar are in black outfits (or white blouses) with red half ties--designed to look like full ties, tucked in.  We like the outfits, appreciate the artifice.  And the bar has a certain modernist near-elegance.  But once again, the coffee is not hot enough!  Perhaps we could have coached them to make it hotter.  This we call RED TIE BAR.

Our story has a happy ending.  We found OUR BAR (that's what we call it) on the corner of via Prenestina and the railroad tracks that cut Pigneto in two.  It has a heritage (1931) but lacks the veneer of oldness in part because the building that originally housed the bar was torn down and replaced in the late 1930s.  The name is Berardo Caffe' (though inside, in an effort to market the bar to younger folks, they call it "Moby Dick"--photo right). It has the the advantage of being right next to another news stand, where we purchase the daily paper (Il Messaggero this year).

A big burly guy runs the register while younger folks make and serve the coffee.  The cornetti are just fair - varied, but not made "in casa."  However, the coffee is tasty and--now important to us--hot.  Sometimes the bar gets very crowded, but that's OK; it's a sign they're doing things right.  Unfortunately, just recently the guy who in the photo below is running the espresso machine was doing the dishes (it's done right in front of the customers) in the narrow space here where that day a woman was running the espresso machine

"Our bar"

(they trade off these tasks).  The two of them had a lengthy argument; it appeared he thought she wasn't pulling her weight.  This is not appropriate bar behavior, and should it become a daily occurrence, we'll be looking, once again, for OUR BAR.


Other coffee wanderings about which we've written include:
Meet you at the hospital for coffee.
Coffee in the traffic circle.
The stand-alone coffee bar.
Caffe' Natalizi (one of our favorites - in Salario).

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