How to Aperitivo Like an Italian
A Guide to Pre-dinner Drinks in Rome
If you stroll through Rome in the early evening you can’t fail to see locals congregate at the city’s bars for a drink and some snacks. Aperitivo time in Italy is a serious business; a moment at the end of a busy day to kick-back, relax, socialize, and gossip. Want to join in? Here is Local Aromas’ handy guide on how to aperitivo like a local.
What is Aperitivo?
The word aperitivo is the Italian translation of apéritif. It comes from the Latin term aperire which means ‘to open’. So it literally relates to the opening of the stomach in preparation for dinner. In practice, this cocktail hour involves an alcoholic drink and a few light bites to eat (but nothing too filling, you don’t want to ruin your meal) designed to stimulate the stomach metabolism and work up a hunger. Yes, in Italy we eat and drink to prepare ourselves to eat and drink!
When Should I Aperitivo?
Italians generally eat quite late (most restaurants open at 7.30pm and locals usually won’t roll up until at least 9pm) leaving a perfect early evening window between the end of the work day and dinner time. The prime aperitivo time is between 6-9pm, though on special occasions such as holidays and family gatherings it is also possible to indulge in a pre-lunch variation around 12 noon.
What Should I Drink?
Anything goes really, but classic aperitivo drinks will contain an element of bitterness rather than overly sugary, sweet concoctions. Sparkling wines such as Prosecco or Franciacorta, or cool, crisp whites fit the aperitivo bill, as do stronger vermouth or Campari-based cocktails such as the Negroni (a mix of equal parts of Campari, gin and red vermouth) or its lighter cousin the Negroni Sbagliato (where the gin is replaced with sparkling white wine).
However, the most popular aperitivo drink is undoubtedly the Spritz, a sparkling, wine cocktail which originated in Venice in the early 1800s. It is said that the occupying Austro-Hungarian soldiers found the local wines too strong and so added a dash (spritzen in German) of soda water to water them down. Nowadays the Spritz is usually made with Prosecco or sparkling wine, with or without a splash of soda, and also contains a bitter element which should be specified when ordering. For a truly Italian aperitivo experience order a Campari Spritz or the slightly sweeter, bright orange Aperol Spritz.
What Should I Eat?
Accompaniments to the aperitivo can range from a few simple bowls of potato chips, nuts, and olives to a full-on buffet spread (sometimes called an apericena because you won’t be needing cena, dinner, afterwards). More often than not the snacks will be included in the price of your drink but prices, quantity, and quality will vary from bar to bar.
Where Should I Go?
Some of our favorite places for aperitivo in Rome are:
Enoteca Ferrara (Piazza Trilussa, 41 – Trastevere): elegant wine bar in Trastevere with a fabulous list of labels.
Terrazza Borromini (Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima, 30A – Piazza Navona): sip a Spritz with a bird’s eye view of Rome at this spectacular rooftop terrace.
Sorpasso (Via Properzio, 31/33 – Prati): aperitivo hour spills out onto the street at this hip hangout a short walk from the Vatican.
Salotto 42 (Piazza di Pietra, 42 – Pantheon): classy cocktails and a cool clientele opposite the spectacular Temple of Hadrian.
Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama, 4/6 – Trastevere): Trastevere’s most famous aperitivo bar serves up a huge buffet, good cocktails, and a young crowd.
If you would like some company for your Roman aperitivo why not join our Aperitivo: Italian Cocktail Hour Tour in Rome where an experienced local guide will talk you through the drinks, food, and culture that combine that make the Italian aperitivo completely unique!