Trastevere just might be the most bar-heavy neighborhood in a city whose idea of fun is sitting for hours outside with friends and a bottle of wine
Located across the Tiber from the historic center, Trastevere is one of the capitals most popular neighborhoods, due to its beautiful little streets, accessibility via public transportation, and many study-abroad centers. Because of the latter, Trastevere is sometimes written-off as being full of drunken American college students. And there certainly are many bars which cater almost exclusively to them, Trastevere has many, many other wonderful spots, some of which we’ll show you here.
A brief note: in Italy, “Bar” is a place open all day and that serves coffee, alcohol and snacks — what the French call a “café.” A nightlife-focused spot is a locale, and beer and wine bars are called, respectively, birreria and enoteca. Endless options for a night out in Rome, so here’s a guide to help you skip the touristy joints and enjoy the best of Trastevere’s bars.
1. Bar San Calisto
Bar San Calisto (Piazza di San Calisto, 3) is one of Trastevere’s oldest, best-known, and certainly most beloved bars. Open for more than half a century, it’s the favored haunt of artists, locals, tourists, garbagemen, drunks, street musicians, refugees, and certain Devour Rome writers. It’s your classic Roman bar. Open at 6:00 a.m. for coffee and pastries, its iconic outdoor seats fill up with beer-sipping readers throughout the day until the evening, when the party envelops the whole piazza, to wrap up at 2:00 a.m. the following morning. Nothing at San Calisto is of artisanal quality, but the spritzes are mixed strong, the prices proudly cheap (€00.80 for an espresso, €1.50 for a beer), and the atmosphere singular. As Trastevere becomes more and more chic (and expensive), San Calisto has remained without pretensions, good for any type of night, and any type of person.
2. Freni e Frizioni
Freni e Frizioni is a short walk from San Calisto and a long way away in terms of style. Here, the space is modern and the specialty is the craft cocktail, which Freni does as well as anyone in Rome. The ever-evolving drinks are often named after some theme (films, cartoons, etc), and go way beyond your average Negroni. Think a “Mediterranean Fizz” with gin, lemon and rosemary, or a “Popeye” concoction of rum, tomato vinegar and spinach sugar. The elaborate drinks require a fair amount of shaking and straining and juicing by the talented bartenders, but part of the fun is waiting at the bar, ticket in hand, and watching them work. There’s also free vegan aperitivo every night. A good place for a pre-or-post dinner cocktail (it’s open, and lively, until 2:00 a.m.)
3. Enoteca La Vite
If you gave someone a pencil and paper, and asked them to draw “cozy neighborhood wine bar,” they’d probably produce something that looks like Enoteca La Vite. This glass-fronted, wood-paneled enoteca doesn’t offer Rome’s biggest cellar or most extensive aperitivo. But what more would one want than a blackboard of local wines by the glass, big plates of marinated vegetables, and tables outside in picturesque Piazza San Cosimato? The perfect place for a pre-dinner prosecco and snack, while watching local kids kick a soccer ball around.
4. Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’
The name of this pint-sized (pun intended) pub literally means “But what’d you come here to do?” The answer, most certainly, is “drink beer.” Since 2001, Ma Che has been a touchstone of the ever-growing craft beer scene in Rome. Every day, 16 different brews are on tap, some of them obscure Italian varieties, but also European and American beers that one rarely finds in a standard bar or grocery store. Seating is limited, and the beers are, understandably, on the more expensive side, so best to make this one stop on a bar crawl. Get a Belgian tripel or an Italian IPA, served in a plastic cup, and enjoy outside with the young, chain-smoking crowd.
5. Bar del Cinque
Bar del Cinque is located right near the main stretch of American-student bars, but a bland shot-bucket locale this is not. Dimly-lit, with a long, narrow bar, it seems the kind of place where 1920’s-era expats might gather for a nightly drink. Like all Roman bars, it’s open early, and the booths in the back are mighty comfortable to stay in for a few hours with a cappuccino and a newspaper. Unlike most Roman bars, at night it becomes “El Mojitaro,” with a separate cocktail station that slings cheap and dangerously drinkable mojitos. A weird and wonderful combination that makes Bar del Cinque a destination for both daytime locals and nighttime visitors.
6. Big Star
Big Star, located right off of the Piazza San Cosimato, looks like the owner of a typical Roman bar decided to convert it to a Los Angeles-style dive, but had never actually been to Los Angeles. Which is a positive thing. Wonderfully inauthentic and always fun, Big Star has walls lined with vinyl covers, draught beer and espresso, and a menu that includes both a “California Burger” and a hunk of lasagna. Surprisingly, the clientele is mostly young Italians, who gather for an aperitivo and a craft beer before a night out in Trastevere. Also a popular place to sit at during the day with a coffee and get some work done on your laptop.
Beer is everywhere in Rome. So are amari, the bitter digestives meant to be drunk after dinner. At Stavio you’ll find a quality of both far superior to your average bar or restaurant. Stavio is located just south of Stazione Trastevere, in the foundation arches of a bridge along with several other locales. Stavio was formerly just a brand of craft beer, but in 2014 the owners built a three-roomed restaurant devoted to their own beers and an enormous menu of artisanal amari. Here, the digestives come in every imaginable flavor, infusions of every imaginable seed and bark and fruit on earth. Inside is the dining area with the full menu, but the best tables are outside, where you can pleasantly sit either before dinner with a beer, or after with an amaro. Or two. Three might be too much, but we don’t judge.
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Despite the name, Giancarlo was actually born and raised in Boston. He now lives in Rome, where he works as a freelance journalist. Passionate about Rome’s food, history and culture, he can usually be found with a good book and, depending on the time of day, an espresso or an Aperol Spritz. Never Campari.