Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Rome's Bukowski Bar

Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Bukowski’s Bar

Bukowski in Rome? Why is a bar just outside of the Vatican city walls called Bukowski’s**? A business card from my Airbnb host was the first clue and I had to investigate. It was my first step towards discovering the world’s greatest happy hour tradition, Aperitivo.

Bukowski’s bar, Galleria and bistrot (sic) is a casual jumble of couches and small tables. Open during the day as a coffee house, jazz fills the air in the evenings as locals mingle over drinks. As a pair of travel-weary Americans on our first night out in Rome, we were a bit naive about local traditions. Two glasses of wine later, as we were about to order a snack, our waitress pointed to a modest buffet and invited us to indulge. It was all part of the world’s greatest happy hour tradition.Inside the Bukowski Bar in Rome

A modest Aperitivo inside the Bukowski Bar, one of the world's greatest.

A modest Aperitivo inside Bukowski’s Bar

The world’s greatest happy hour tradition in expensive Rome begins around 6:30 pm and lasts until 8 pm or later. I indulged early as a Westerner unaccustomed to eating dinner at 9 or 10 pm.

The Aperitivo tradition reportedly began in Milan. ‘L’aperitivo’ (as they say in Rome) is a chance to hang out with friends after work and before dinner. The classic drink is a Spritz made with white wine or Prosecco, Campari, or Aperol. Some claim that drinks are over-priced during Aperitivo hours but that wasn’t my experience. In fact, Aperitivo is an inexpensive dinner for the budget minded (and mind you, we only visited smaller bars.)

Trastevere charms

The next day after a steamy afternoon tour of Rome’s Colosseum and a coffee meeting with a Roman local, we were pointed to the charms of the Trastevere neighborhood. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds. Cafes and bars spilled onto narrow avenues. Small shops and galleries lured lookers. Trees lined small squares. While tourists passed quickly, locals sauntered and paused to visit with friends. We searched for a cool drink and stepped into the quirky art bar, Alembic.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world's best Aperitivo, happy hours.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world’s greatest, Aperitivo, happy hours.

The Alembic Spread in Trastevere

The Hybris Art Gallery and Bar

Another find in the Travestere area is Hybris. While it’s inviting and creative inside, we parked ourselves at a table near the door and watched the neighborhood unfold. The tall bartender mixed gorgeous cocktails. The Aperitivo buffet was delicious and we pretended to be Italian for an hour.


Hybris art gallery and bar in Rome has one of the world's greatest happy hours

My dear Dave in Hybris – note stylish street life behind him.

Stylish in Travestere
Hybris bartender at work
Off the Tourist track – the Pratti Neighborhood

Come Friday, we joined a small group and the Roman Food Tour company. Over a few blissful hours, we sampled and learned about Romes’ most delicious and authentic foods. (Story to come.) As an appetizer, here’s a glimpse inside our Aperitivo at Secondo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secundo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secondo Tradizione.

How to find some of the world’s greatest happy hours in Rome:
  • Secondo Tradizone – Serves fine aged meats and cheese pairings with wine. Open for dinner as well as Aperitivo. Website.
  • Bukowski’s Bar – Casual hangout day or evening. Affordably priced drinks. Facebook page.
  • Alembic – Set on a corner in Travestere, Aperitivo costs 10 Euro including selected drinks. Facebook page.
  • Hybris Art Gallery and Bar – Rotating art shows, great people watching, food and drinks.
  • Take a food tour! The Roman Food Tour offers many options and times.
Links to Rome Aperitivo listings:
  • The Dark Rome blog has a great post about frugal traveler Aperitivos.
  • The Reidsitaly site needs translation but has lists (translate through Google easily.) Find a neighborhood and go forth.
  • Roma Tonight Check the events tab.
  • Quiroma Italy – Many local aperitivi’s listed
  • The Culture Trip blog is a deep resource for Europe travel.

** About Bukowski in Rome: There’s no record that the Beat Poet ever made it to Italy but an Italian movie immortalized his debaucheries in Los Angeles. The Italian director, Marco Ferreri, shot ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness‘ in Los Angeles and in English. The movie was panned in the US but found critical success in Europe. Perhaps the Bukowski’s bar owner saw it and somehow identified with the rough writer. Looking at his fresh and happy face, it seems his fate is much kinder.


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