By Eleonora Baldwin
orget the dreaded apericena, the "drinks-and-dinner" contraction of aperitivo and cena, Rome's newest drinking trend is Roaring Twenties inspired mixology. Thanks to the ambitions of handful of wildly inventive bartenders and businessmen, hard alcohol-shy Rome has developed a thriving speakeasy culture that in less than a decade has seen it pull even with — if not outdo — plenty of cities better known for their bar scenes than their antiquities.
Drinking in Italy has always had more to do with the pleasures of socializing than showing off how many high-octane shots you can down in five minutes. That, along with working hours that run well past 5 p.m., helps explain why Happy Hour never took off here. Instead, aperitivo culture usually begins about 6 p.m. and normally lasts until dinnertime, which is hardly ever before 8.30 p.m. (and later in summer). Now, the cocktail boom has extended that time frame well into the night — so long as you know the password.
Want to take a jaunt into the long-gone world of outlawed alcohol and tiny flapper dresses? Good. Here are my favorite Rome speakeasies. I've provided contact details and Facebook pages whenever possible but your best bet is to do your own homework and call ahead.
The Jerry Thomas Project This Prohibition-era styled joint was the first to serve world-class cocktails, basically kick-starting the speakeasy movement in 2009. The brainchild of bartending pros Antonio Parlapiano, Roberto Artusio and Leonardo Leuci, JTP is named after legendary bartender Jerry Thomas, whose 1862 book "How to Mix Drinks - The Bon Vivant's Companion" is a bartending bible.
Membership is required and phone reservations are mandatory (accepted only between 2 and 6 p.m.) Patrons who appear in front of the tiny door are asked for a password (the answer to a weekly drink-related question hidden on the website.)
Once inside, enjoy the homemade gin and vermouth in skillfully crafted cocktails. The rules are strict: smoking in moderation, no cash payments, no talking about politics or religion, no sleeping on tables and no vodka. If you want a bottle of vermouth you can get it at the recently opened JTP Emporium. • Open 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Closed Sunday and Monday | The Jerry Thomas Project Vicolo Cellini, 30. Tel. +39.06.96845937/+39.370.114.6287.
Co.So. In 2013, Massimo D'Addezio, Valerio Albrizio and barlady Giorgia Crea left the Hotel De Russie's Stravinsky Bar after more than a decade to open this high-end cocktail bar in the lively Pigneto neighborhood. It was a game-changer for Pigneto, whose bars were largely substandard.
Inventive doesn't begin to cover what's in store. Co.So's Carbonara Sour is made with guanciale-infused vodka, egg white, black pepper, lemon juice and syrup. It's sipped through a raw bucatino noodle instead of a straw. You can buy the furniture you sit on and there's even a private "shower room" accessed through the bathroom. • Open 7 p.m.-3 a.m. Closed Sunday | Co.So. Cocktails & Social Via Braccio da Montone, 80. Tel. +39.06.4543.5428.
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