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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Finding "Our" Coffee Bar in Rome: the Story of Two Searches

If you're in Rome more than a week, nothing is more important than choosing your coffee bar. The coffee bar is central to Roman--and Italian--life. Mornings begin with coffee and a cornetto (a Danish); then there's the late-morning break for coffee--either at the bar or delivered from the bar on one of those ubiquitous round trays. And so on. 

On a recent trip, we were lucky to stay in two Rome neighborhoods; we got to choose two coffee bars rather than just one.

Our first neighborhood (quartiere) was Aurelia South, a busy, pleasant, middle-class enclave tucked in between the Vatican on one side and the long shoulder of Monte Mario on the other. The area is full of coffee bars. We tried ten! The one closest to the Vatican was nice enough, but the prices were too high--the tourists had reached the area, if only barely. Others were men's bars (the tables outside invariably occupied by long-term, older Roman guys), or the coffee wasn't good enough, or the outside space was limited, or whatever.  

Here's one reject: 

And another reject, a bar called MilkCoffeBurger. Despite the name, we tried this one a couple of times.  

Another was too fancy, although, as you can see in the photo below, the police stopped in for coffee late one day. This was our late-afternoon wine bar. 

We finally settled on Venere Caffe' (Bar Bistrot) a place with a nice outside space, stuck out into the street--and covered, shielded from the sun. Good coffee. The label "bistrot" is widely used these days. We've even seen "ristrot," a combination of bistrot and ristorante. 

After about two weeks in Aurelia South, we moved to an apartment just a short block from Piazza dei Re di Roma.  We tried Pompi, the largest and most famous bar in the area, known for its tiramisu. We found the coffee ordinary at best and the staff impersonal. No. And we tried Cannoleria, a bar that features cannoli. No seating inside, a nice outside space [see photo below, with Piazza dei Re di Roma in the distance] (you carry your coffee and stuff out the door on a tray, and walk around the flower shop). Coffee was good, cornetti excellent. Too expensive. Slow service from a too-busy staff, but good enough that it was our favorite on Sundays and holidays when our otherwise favorite one was closed.

We tried a small corner bar on Via Aosta--too small inside, rather ordinary tables, uncovered, outside. No comfortable space in which to reader the morning paper. And lousy coffee.

Then we found "our" bar. On via Pinerolo, just steps from our apartment. The name is Antica Caffetteria, and on the awning it says "Wine Bar Gastronomia," half of which is true. This is definitely not a wine bar, in the sense in which that term ought to be used, although they serve an afternoon "spritz." But there is a kitchen, which serves a daily lunch that attracts quite a crowd, and the cook is the wife of the owner/manager.

Here's the bar from down the sidewalk. When the sun is shining, as it usually is, the tables on the right, beyond the awning (and nearer the street), are not favored.

Across from the bar there's an old phone booth, now an informal library, decorated with embroidery. We saw lots of folks looking at the books and taking one or two.  

The bar has good outside seating, some of it uncovered (not good) and some of it covered sufficiently to ward off the morning sun. 

Befitting a place where food is served, there were a number of tables inside in back, where we often sat and read the paper. The price was right: E1 for coffee (no additional cost for an Americano), E1 for a cornetto, total E4 for both of us (about $4.20). The cornetti were Roma standard, the coffee uniformly excellent. 

Like many establishments in these days of Covid-19--especially those not in a tourist area--there's no extra charge for sitting at a table, inside or outside. Rather than table service, customers are encouraged to take their coffee and cornetti to their table, on one of those round trays. When finished, we always disposed of our napkins and took the cups back to the bar--not required, but a courtesy. Our bar usually gave us small glasses of tap water with our our coffee (see the glasses on the tray, below). 

Late in our visit we learned that the bar is a family operation. Dad runs the cassa (the cash register), cleans up here and there and buses tables. In the photo below, he shows surprise at being photographed (I didn't expect him to come into the frame).

His two sons are baristi, making coffee and serving customers their cornetti. As noted, their mother is the cook. A young woman, who often made our coffee, was apparently the only non-family member working at the bar. Her head can be seen in the 2nd photo, below. 

Like all good Roma coffee bars, the baristas at "our" bar knew our order by the third day. That's not only a nice touch, it's a form of community that you won't get at Starbucks. 

If you're in the vicinity of Piazza dei Re di Roma, save a few minutes for a stop at Antica Caffeteria, on via Pinerolo. One of our favorites. 



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