Text and photo: Jesper Storgaard Jensen - PR-photos from Madeleine
The bags are packed and everything is ready for your trip to Rome. The Eternal City's numerous historical sites and thousands of cosy restaurants, pizzerias, trattorias and wine bars are waiting to embrace you. But where do you actually go, if you want to taste the famous Italian coffee, which - quite understandable - is the main reason why so many Italian suffer from "coffee withdrawals" when away from home.
The choice is not easy in a city that has allegedly something like 6,000 coffee spots. So Name of magazine has visited ten must-visit cafés where, a part from the good coffee, you'll be able to find the local inhabitants, coffee cups full of history and quality, birds' singing, hats and much more.
Bar Marani – Like one big family
They are having a really swell time right there under what is perhaps the Roman café people’s most beloved pergola. The more than hundred year old Bar Marani is situated in Rome’s university neighborhood, San Lorenzo. The relationship between San Lorenzo and Marani is actually a sort of a ying-yang-situation: you can definitely find a good part of San Lorenzo’s freaked out soul around the tables at Bar Marani. The bar, on the other hand, would definitely not be the same place without San Lorenzo around it. This is the neighborhoods most popular café and one of my personal favorite places. When I have the possibility I like to make a stop-over at Marani to get the classical glass of espresso, just to make sure that nothing has changed here in the past 20 years I’ve been living in Rome. Marani is still a “home” to university students, local bohemians, heavily smoking housewives, intellectual wanna-bees, silent readers with thick glasses and all in all an impressive gallery of strange and more or less freaked out characters, of which a good part could easily have stepped out of a Fellini-movie. Susanna Marani, third generation of the Marani family recounts: “Here, we are a bit like one big family. If someone has forgotten his money at home, then he just pops by next day to pay. Some time ago all our chairs and tables here under the pergola were stolen. When people from the neighborhood heard about it, they started to show up with chairs and tables from their homes, which we then used for about a week. As I said: one big family!”. Marani seems to be completely faithful to their own philosophy about not following fashion trends. For that reason Marani has never given in to the temptation of becoming a part of the lively San Lorenzo night life. So, shortly before 10 pm you’ll hear the ringing of a “closing bell”. People empty their glasses, the book marks are put into all kinds of different stories and you’ll hear several “buona notte”, while people go back towards home or in the direction of nightly adventures.
Via dei Volsci 57, San Lorenzo
Bar San Calisto – The soul of Trastevere
There is no need to beat around the bush when it comes to Bar San Calisto. This is one of Rome’s most authentic café temples and the quintessence of the most intimate parte of the Trastevere neighborhood. The Italian term “verace” explains all that is real, authentic and without make-up, and this is exactly how San Calisto is. Everyday – since the middle of the 1960’ies you have been able to meet an impressive gallery of strange existences and more or less curious individuals – local matrons, foreign students with iPads, intellectual outcasts, half-trashed artistic types, long bearded homeless, heavily smoking newspaper readers and … ordinary people. About half of the youngsters that attend the bar call the owner, Marcello Forti, by name and being the owner of this historic place he has almost earned himself cult status. In the evening the café is almost completely taken over by the student generation and party animals on their way to an evening event. San Calisto has slowly become en modern classic, an absolute must while in Trastevere and especially a social-anthropological experience that you should definitely have on your Rome bucket list.
Bar San Calisto
Piazza San Calisto 3-5, Trastevere
Bar del fico – Mingling with the chic crowds
Shock waves shook a good deal of the Roman café people in 2004, when Bar del Fico closed down. The bar, that once was a diary and that in 1928 was transformed into a café, had been a true Rome institution for many years. The Bar del Fico-abstinences were to last for a whole six years until 2010, when the café finally reopened. Bar del Fico – “fico” in Italian meaning fig like the old more than hundred years old fig tree situated in front of the café – has been restored in a intriguing shabby chic-style. Today it appears to be a welcoming mix of Italian vintage and a certain amount of French bistort elements. The Italian word play between “fico” (fig) and “figo” (chic or smart) is almost obvious, because this is the place where a great deal of the chic Romans likes to be seen and hang out. Here you can start off with cappuccino and cornetto, go on to a light lunch, take your time for a couple of aperitifs and, in the evening, go to the café restaurant, that carries the same name. And you’ll also have the opportunity to show your chess skills – if you are in that mood – with your memorized King’s Gambit in front of one of the concentrated chess players that can always be found on the piazza in front of the café.
Bar del Fico
Piazza del Fico 26-28
Sciascia Caffè – Where quality never goes out of fashion
If you interrogate Roman coffee aficionados many of them will stubbornly claim that the best coffee in Rome is made right here, at Sciascia, in Rome’s Prati Neighborhood, not so far from the Vatican. And they might very well be right. Actually, the Gambero Rosso café guide continues, year after year, to give Sciascia a maximum three coffee beans-vote as a sign of the highest quality. “Our coffee beans, that we choose very carefully, come from countries like Brazil, some middle-American and African countries”, says Adolfo Sciascia who runs the café together with his sister. The Sciascia-family is from Sicily and their activities as coffee roasters can be dated back to 1919. Stepping into Sciascia is a bit like going on a voyage back in time. In the small shop-café you find an assortment that almost seems incidental: old-fashioned colored sweets, the classic Amarelli liquorices, small bags with freshly roasted coffee and a small framed text saying that Sciascia’s coffee is “coffee for the soul”. The part of the shop where you’ll find the café is characterized by a somewhat dark ambience and three lower hanging green lamps that for years have been fighting against the dark. Well, darkness or no darkness. The fact is the Rome’s coffee aficionados keep coming back to taste Sciascia’s specialty, coffee with chocolate. Sciascia is like an old-fashioned romance combined with quality that goes on and on.
Via Fabio Massimo 80/A
Tazza d’Oro – Going for the authentic taste experience
You’ll probably have that special feeling right after you have stepped into Tazzo d’Oro, close to Pantheon: right here it’s all about coffee. The often considerable queue in front of the cash register to pay before consumption, the long zinc bar dish where the coffee cups are constantly being lined up, the many regulars who in quite a laid back way are leaning towards the bar counter to get that day’s first caffeine boost. All this translate into one single thing: you have come to a coffee Mecca, a temple, a wonderland for all lovers of the hot black drink. And this is really a Mecca of coffee, because ever since it’s opening in 1946, the Tazza d’Ora, The Golden Cup, has generally been regarded as one of the capital’s most authentic quality places for those of you looking for a high level coffee experience that offers something extra. The café’s interior style is highly intriguing since it resembles a sort of English colonial style, with many bamboo elements. The café roasts all its 100% Arabica (highest quality) beans and on the impressively long coffee card you’ll find coffee types like the rare Maragogype and La Regina dei Caffè Blue Mountain. The café’s trademark, which can be found on the café’s packings, is a dark-skinned Latin-American woman, who throws coffee seeds in a field. Without doubt Tazza d’Oro is a must to all coffee lovers. If you’re not in town, but you’re dying to have a taste, you actually have the possibility of ordering through the café’s home site.
Via degli Orfani 84-86
Sant’Eustacchio – Be sure to come back to Rome
“Follow me out here in the back, I want to show you something. The sacks you see here are from Brazil, but we also have suppliers from the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Guatemala. My brother Raimondo finds them during his trips to South-America. They are all producers that make a product of a very high quality”, Roberto Ricci tells me. For quite a number of years Roberto and Raimondo have run what many Romans consider to be the city’s coffee temple numero uno. A true institution of quality that opened in 1938 and which, according to Roberto, operates according to one and only keyword: quality. “We ourselves do the roasting of the beans a couple of times a week on this old roaster”, he tells me. “Then the coffee has to rest for a couple of days before it is ready for consumption. Remember: good things take time. Just as when you speak about wine or cheese”, he tells me. Here at Eustacchio, not far from the Pantheon, you’ll find tourists from all over the world, and many of them are provided with a guide that says that Eustacchio is theplace, if you want to taste the famous Italian coffee in Rome. Quite a number of VIPs have ordered a cup of coffee here – no one mentioned, on one forgotten. Well, actually two persons have to be mentioned. “Mr. Schultz has been spotted here twice”, says Roberto laughing. “Who is Mr. Schultz”, I ask him. “Mr. Schultz … the inventor of Starbucks. He did not present himself, but we discovered him”, says Roberto, laughing once again. But also the Swiss inventor Eric Favre cannot be ignored. In the middle of the 1970’ies his Italian wife took him to Rome where he, after an excellent cup of coffee at Eustacchio, asked the barista how he had made such a good cup of coffee. The barista then looked at him and said: “I just pressed a button”. That’s supposedly how Favre had his idea to what has today become a millionaire business: Nespresso. You can visit Eustacchio in the morning, at midday or in the evening. But remember to ask for the specialty Gran Caffé. At that point you don’t have to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to be sure to come back to Rome.
Piazza Sant’Eustacchio 82
La Casina del Lago – Coffee and birds’ singing
Ahhh, Villa Borghese … what a pleasure! Walking lazily through the Roman’s favorite garden is a cheer joy. 80 acres of green idyll - which many Roman’s have almost perceived like a second living room since 1903 - is situated in the center of the city and just waiting to open its green arms to receive you. You can enjoy the nature, visit a museum or even invite your chosen one to a romantic rowing intermezzo on the garden’s small artificial lake. Or you can contemplate Rome with a bird’s eye view from the Pincio panoramic view point. In between you’ll need a place to sit down for a cup of coffee. No problem, just go to the Casina del Lago, close to the artificial lake, where you can sit down and enjoy the birds’ singing and the fact that the city’s sounds will arrive to you in a muffled way. The neo-classical building, that hosts the café and somehow resembles a mountain cottage, was built in 1920. Today the place is a very popular pit stop to both tourists and Romans where you can also enjoy a light lunch – sandwiches and panini – accompanied by green colors and the feeling of having come to a truly relaxing place.
La Casina del Lago
Via dell’Aranciera 2, Villa Borghese
Gatsby Cafè – Coffee and hats
Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood is also known as “Rome’s China Town”. Actually, in some parts of the quarter you’ll meet shops where the prices in the windows are exposed in Chinese Yuan. Perhaps that’s why you can sometimes see the neighborhood’s name re-baptized to the humoristic Es-qui-lin. The quarter’s main square, Piazza Vittorio, was constructed in the end of the 19. Century, during the Italian kingdom. This explains why it - with its many porticos - has something of Torino’s elegance. Right here, on the piazza, you’ll meet one of Rome’s most interesting new cafes, born in November 2016, Gatsby Cafè. “Right here there used to be a hat shop, run by the Venturini family. It opened in 1880 and closed last year. We were lucky, because the family liked our project quite a lot so we had the permission to open the cafè, and as you can see there is quite a clear reference to this shop’s first life”, Mauro Patatini, one of the owners, tells me and indicates some of the hats that are exposed on the first and second floor. The hat – today a reminder of a distant elegance – can also be found in the café’s logo. The café’s name is a reference to both the famous novel by Francis Scott Fitzgeral, the Great Gatsby, but also the equally famous Gatsby hat that you can actually still buy in the café. Inside the café there is a cozy reading and chatting room where you can enjoy your coffee or cappuccino and cornetto in a space with a strong blue color. When you’re done, take a look at the other side of the street inside the park of Piazza Vittorio. If you lucky, here – especially in the morning - you’ll be able to see members of the Chinese community practicing the famous Tai Chi Chuan gymnastics.
Piazza Vittorio 106, Esquilino
Antico Caffè Greco - Rome's most famous café
I can’t exactly say that I have worn out my shoes at Caffè Greco during the 20 years I’ve been living in Rome. The times I’ve visited the old café can probably be counted on a couple of hands. Despite that, I have to admit – when I once in a while go there – that its atmosphere is really something quite special. Well, I guess it's quite natural since we are speaking about the café that opened back in 1760! To find something similar you’ll probably have to visit Caffè Florian in Venice. Here, at Caffè Greco, the air is thick of history and of stories. The echo of past famous frequentations – Wagner, Liszt, Keats, Byron, H.C. Andersen, Goethe, Schopenhauer and many others – seems to reverberate like distance voices. The atmosphere is also full of awe, at least if you observe some of the tourists that with a clearly respectful attitude walk around in the café while contemplating antique paintings, old newspaper articles that have been framed and drawn sketches of past famous guests. Caffè Greco’s director, signor Fabio, tells me to follow him and shows me a beautiful antique sofa upholstered with a yellow velour: “This sofa used to be in the apartment above us where the Danish poet H.C. Andersen used to live for at period. He has probably been sitting here for quite a number of times". Well, actually Greco seems to be a sort of a modern fairytale, because when you sit at the old café with a cup of espresso you almost automatically ask yourself how it has been possible to preserve such a place for more than 250 years?! The clientele of today is a mixture of Romans with reading glasses - who apparently try their best to uphold the café's literary tradition - and tourists from all over the world. The café is expensive (seven euro for a cup of espresso), which is comprehensible, considering its history and posh atmosphere.
Antico Caffè Greco
Via dei Condotti 86
Madeleine - Where Rome flirts with Paris
Rome's Prati neighborhood, in the Northern part of the city, is a quarter which is full of cafés, many of which have a certain age. There is, however, also exceptions like the fairly new Madeleine, which opened its doors in the second half of 2015. This is actually a Salon de Gastronomie. This means, speaking about interior decoration, that we are in or around Paris. Madeleine opens at 8 in the morning and stays open until 2 in the night, so you could actually stay her all day long. And that would probably not be a problem, if you consider the style and elegance of this new bistro, one of the most elegant in Rome right now. The owner Giancarlo Battafarano surely has a sixth sense of taking over abandoned restaurants and turning them into chic meeting points. Well, Madeleine is actually so chic and has such a style that sometimes it suddenly appears in your living room ... when you experience that several TV-commercials have been shot here. In a small part of the café you'll find a so-called tavolo sociale, a social table, the perfect dinner place for a small group of 10-12 friends, what will probably have the feeling that they are sitting in a private living room. In the bottom of the café, beautifully lid with dozens of small lamps, you'll find the Boudoir bar, where you can get long drinks or high class whiskey. Madeleine is definitely the place where Rome meets Paris and ... they fall hopelessly in love!
Via Monte Santo 64, Prati