Ubiquitous in towns big and small, bars are where Italians gather for a quick coffee or savory bite. Bars serve coffee and alcohol all day, though most drinks are consumed standing up. When ordering a drink, remember there is no “grande” or “venti” size in Italy.
Italians have a long tradition of drinking wine and other beverages with meals. At restaurants, you will pay a set price for a drink, often posted as alla Tavola or al banco. It includes the cost of the beverage, a table charge and service. Try a Negroni or an Aperol spritz if you still decide to commit to the full meal and want something lighter. For Italians, bars are a social hub in the afternoon and evening. They are where locals grab a quick coffee or a bite to eat. Bars are also the place to go for aperitivo or happy hour. Aperitivo is a time to enjoy cocktails or light wines with finger foods like cheeses and crackers. Aperitivo is also a great way to kick-start your metabolism and build an appetite for dinner in an Italian drinking bar near me. Unlike happy hour in the US, Italian aperitivos are not intended to be drunk excessively. Instead, they are meant to be enjoyed with a friend and a glass of wine.
Beer is also very popular in a country where wine takes the spotlight. The Italians are known worldwide for mass-produced lagers like Peroni and Nastro Azzurro. However, they have a growing craft brew scene influenced by their beer-centric neighbors in Germany, Belgium and the USA. You can usually find a good selection of wines and beers at bars. Bars typically serve appetizers at a fixed price for drinks, a ritual called aperitivo that is Italy’s answer to happy hour. You can graze on crostini, cold pasta salads, crudites and salami for one drink. Aperitivo is a perfect time to try some classy cocktails like a Negroni (gin, Vermouth Rosso and Campari) or an Aperol spritz.
After dinner, you may have a digestive, bittersweet after-dinner drink such as an amaro or grappa that helps your body absorb the nutrients of your meal and ease you into sleep. Italian bars have no age restrictions, so children are welcome and a common sight. Bars in larger cities and tourist areas often charge more to sit at tables (alla Tavola) than standing at the counter (al banco).
The Italian love of coffee is legendary, and bars are central to their culture. The barista is an important part of the experience, and being polite is essential. If you’re standing at the counter, paying before ordering (at a cash register called la casa) is customary. The barista will then bring your drink. Sip your espresso in small sips – three or four sips at most. Glugging your espresso in one go displaces the crema and makes it lose its flavor and heat. Taking sips maximizes the enjoyment and experience. If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, ask for una cornetto. These flaky little treats, often shaped like a croissant, are the perfect complement to an espresso. And remember to say Grazie mille if the service is exceptional. Alternatively, you can say “ciao” or, even better, arrivederci! (ask for a glass of water, too)!
Unlike in the US, where it’s customary to order an alcoholic beverage without food at the bar, Italian bars offer a snack or appetizer along with your drink. Known as aperitivo, this tradition is the country’s answer to happy hour. For a set price, you can consume as many small meals, including pizza, cheese, and cured meats. In larger towns, you’ll also find bars serving wine, cocktails, beer and coffee. They’re often more expensive than those focusing solely on drinks and are listed as alla banco or alla tavola (counter versus table). In wine and beer, many Italians prefer to buy a bottle rather than a glass in a bar. Some prefer to bring their bottle! You can enjoy fizzy sodas, lemonade or crushed-ice granita if you’re a non-alcoholic drinker. If you’re thirsty, try a shot of grappa.