Rome: Bar Italia

Rome’s once-sleepy bar scene is enjoying a renaissance and breathing new life into the Italian capital. Our favourite cocktail king, Marco Faraone, uncorks his top picks.

Since arriving in Australia seven years ago, Roman dynamo Marco Faraone has made quite a name for himself on the local bar scene - in the best possible way. Named Bartender of the Year for three consecutive years by Bartender magazine (while working at hip Sydney spot Lotus), the Italian's infectious energy and dazzling cocktails are in high demand at A-list parties. Little wonder he's set up his own events and training business, Flavour, with contracts extending to Asia and the Middle East.
Faraone was raised in the village of Grottaferrata, on the southern fringe of the Italian capital, and completed his hospitality studies in Florida before jumping aboard the QE2 to wait tables and man bars. It was there he met one of the owners of Planet Hollywood, who recruited him to open new sites in Rome and Dubai. Next stop London, where Faraone mixed with the best at Oliver Peyton's renowned Atlantic Bar and Grill, voted Best Bar in Europe by Time magazine in the late 90s. "That was the place that started the cocktail revolution," Faraone says. "I learned so much in London. I think it's the world capital of bars."
Since being lured here by his Australian-born wife, Jane, Faraone has returned to Rome each year to visit his extended family and research the city's increasingly vibrant bar scene. "I'm appreciating Rome much more now than when I was living there," he says. "I see people enjoying life more there. The atmosphere is very laid-back."
That said, there's nothing laid-back about the city's bar scene, which has been infused with the ideas and expertise of those who, like Faraone, left the city to gain experience abroad. The result is a thriving, and often surprising, renaissance.
"Our concept of bars used to be the place where you go in the morning for your coffee, then you go back to at 11 for your Campari and soda, then after lunch for your amaro. But now there are more modern, cutting-edge lounges, and the traditional aperitivo has become more of a cocktail hour, like anywhere in the world. Except, in Rome, our cocktail hour is anything from about 6pm to 9pm."
This bar is part of the highly successful franchise that originated in Amsterdam and has since spread to other cities such as San Francisco; another will open in Singapore in June. Supperclub Rome comprises various salons - a snow-white room with marble floors and rows of mattresses that double as dining tables, a bar rouge and a luxe Champagnerie Art Gallery. After dinner, star DJs and VJs crank up the atmosphere. "Supperclub set a new benchmark for premium bars; when it put stage shows on in the restaurant, it brought a different vibe to the city," says Faraone. "It's like being in New York, London or Paris, except you're in an old Roman villa. The thing I like about it is if you lie on the bed, look up, there's a fresco on the ceiling."
Via de' Nari 14, +39 06 6880 7207,
Jonathan's Angels Named after the owner who, according to legend, used to be a circus acrobat, the venue and louche décor are reason enough to visit Jonathan's Angels than purely for the drinks, says Faraone. "All the walls are painted with a mural or collage and there's a pretty strange toilet containing an original Roman bath and fountain." He adds it is quite a locals' bar and a very popular place in the area. "Local people know about this place and they think of it almost like a tourist attraction - but for them, not for tourists. Jonathan's Angels' cocktails are stuck in the 80s, served with umbrellas, monkeys on the glass...bring it on!"
Via della Fossa 14-16, Piazza Navona, +39 06 689 3426.
Salotto 42 Salotto means lounge in Italian, and this handsome 'book bar' on the Piazza di Pietra, opposite the stunning Temple of Hadrian, has become the living room of choice for Rome's beautiful people. Owner Damiano Mazzarella and his wife, Swedish supermodel Malin Persson, former host of Scandinavia's Next Top Model, have created a sophisticated space featuring low couches and armchairs with a curated selection of magazines and books (Design Anarchy, anyone?). There is also an iPod loaded with Mazzarella's favourite music (Roni Size, Nuccini, lots of house) attached to wall-mounted headphones for your listening pleasure. Weekend brunch for €15 (about $25) is popular, as is the house cocktail, Salotto 42, a blend of grapes, lime and sake over ice.
Piazza di Pietra 42, +39 06 678 5804,
Caffè della Pace Since it opened in 1891, the Caffè della Pace has acquired a charming patina of age - marble tabletops, tiled floors, bronzes, busts, beamed roof - and has long been a hang-out for artists, writers, poets, entertainers and politicians. Try the Spremuta (freshly squeezed orange juice) or the rossini, a blend of Prosecco and strawberry juice. "This is an institution," says Faraone, "a classic Roman bar serving classic drinks like Negronis. It's a meeting point for actors and stars - Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise went there when they were together. In summertime, sit outside and soak up the atmosphere."
Via della Pace 3/7, +39 06 686 1216,
Stravinsky Bar Set within the very glamorous Hotel de Russie, Stravinsky Bar is a member of the elite 'Bond Bars' circuit, establishments where you can be assured the famous dry martini will be impeccably prepared. Bar supremo Massimo D'Addezio, creator of the de Russie Martini, a blend of sherry and vodka served with a spoonful of Beluga, is Guida L'espresso's 2008 Barman of the Year. "Stravinsky Bar was one of the first places to really start pushing the cocktail culture in Rome, and it's famous for its cocktails," says Faraone. "It's just off the Piazza del Popolo, an area full of actors and actresses, so it's a very arty place to go." And not least because Picasso and Cocteau were former house guests of this 1837 landmark.
Via del Babuino 9, +39 06 328 881,
Antico Caffè Greco "This is an institution on via Condotti, next to Prada and near Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, and it's more than 200 years old," says Faraone. Caffè Greco opened in 1760 and has been a haunt of Keats, Stendhal and Goethe. "I remember when I was a kid, the time I went to Rome, my dad said, 'And this is Caffè Greco!' I probably didn't get there by myself until I was 26, but it's always been an institution." Faraone adds it's a classic Italian bar where you can get coffee, dolce and drinks any time, but it's expensive. "The interiors are fantastic and the bartenders have been working for generation to generation, passing the job down through families. But it's more a place of history than a cool place to go."
Via Condotti, +39 06 679 1700.
Vineria Reggio "You walk in here and the walls are just stacked with wines. It's pretty much just a corridor," says Faraone. Buy a glass or bottle of wine here and drink it out on the square or enjoy it at the bar among the rustic wood and stone-flag floors, with some stuzzichini (Italian tapas). You might have Parma ham and mozzarella, or salmon pâté on toast, or olives and cheese. "Vineria is the first stop before you move elsewhere. Outside the door, on Campo de' Fiori, there are always thousands of people. You just get your bottle of wine from Vineria Reggio and meet people in the square. In Italy, you don't really see drunk people on the streets because, for them, it's not a good look. They call it bon coutume, literally meaning 'good custom' - it means you are civilised. There is no mentality to get drunk."
Campo de' Fiori 15, +39 06 6880 3268.
Ketumbar A landmark in the nightclub district of Testaccio, Ketumbar is a restaurant and lounge bar housed in a former papal wine cellar (you can still see barrique marks in the walls). It is even more famous for being built against Monte Testaccio, a man-made hill comprised of terracotta shards from ancient Roman amphorae (vases). Each of Ketumbar's rooms has a glass wall framing the incredible relics. "This was probably the first place I saw that reminded me of London's style," Faraone says. "It's in an old Roman building and if you go to the sushi tables and sit on the ground, you're surrounded by Roman bricks. I remember the first year that I got back to Italy and went to Supperclub and to Ketumbar, I said to myself, 'Oh my god, what is happening to Rome?'"
Via Galvani 24, Testaccio, +39 06 5730 5338,
Bar del Fico
"This bar, named after a fig tree in the small piazza where it's located, is like a version of the more famous Caffè della Pace," says Faraone. "It has a very local clientele - we used to call them the pariolini. Parioli is a classic block of Rome where residents dress very well; they are from wealthy families. The Bar del Fico, we say that's for those people, the pariolini. You are in the historic heart of Rome here, just a 50-metre walk from Piazza's all part of the history of the Italian nation." Faraone adds this bar is at its best late at night, when it gets so busy "it's as if everyone is there".
Piazza del Fico 27-28, +39 06 686 5205.
"Nazca is pretty much one of the coolest places in Rome. It's near the pyramid of Caius Cestius, built in 12BC, and the crowd is everything from showbiz to the young wealthy breed - a real mixed salad," says Faraone. The décor is minimalist, with high ceilings and leather stools, and it's divided into three sections. "There's a restaurant that serves Italian cuisine with a twist, and a cocktail bar." Expect pumping house and electronica music in the disco. "Nazca doesn't really have one signature cocktail, but it seems everyone in Rome these days is making mojitos."
Via del Gazometro 42, +39 06 574 7638.