Bars in Italy seem to be everywhere. Some blocks have more than one. No matter where you are staying or where you are going, there will be a bar nearby. In the smallest mountain towns that have seldom seen a tourist, there are bars. They are part of the Italian culture. Yes they do sell alcohol but they are NOT about drinking! These establishments are typically open all day and do not close for the afternoon break (usually between 1 pm and 4 pm).
So why are they so important:
- Is it the breakfast and coffee they serve all day?
- Is it the sandwiches and sometimes pasta they serve at lunch with a glass of wine or a beer?
- Is it the snacks or sandwiches they serve in the early evening?
- Is it the drinks they serve (always with some small amount of food)?
- Is it the gelato (ice cream) that most serve?
It is all of these things and one big additional item that is important to Italians. It is a place to socialize. You may have a small breakfast and coffee at home but you will stop for another coffee and maybe a pastry on the way to work. It is a place to meet friends and talk politics or sports or any other topic that comes up. Mid morning you need a break from work. Do you go to an office coffee station like in America? No, you head for the bar for another coffee and chat.
Lunch time sees hordes of Italian workers heading for their respective bars. They get a sandwich (panino) and a beer or glass of wine. They usually eat standing up and talking with friends. Are you beginning to see the social value of bars in Italy?
After work everyone heads for the bar for Happy Hour. Here they do have a drinks (wine, beer or an aperitif). The bar will always serve some small food items to go with the drinks. It is considered bad form to drink without eating in Italy. Then everyone heads home to be with the family. Some venture back out to a bar to meet friends before dinner.
As a tourist the bars are very important to you:
- If your hotel does not include breakfast, head to the nearest bar and get a coffee and pastry. The food is great and you will enjoy the Italians around you.
- Lunch at a bar is the cheapest way to have something delicious. Italian panini (sandwiches) are great. Try a few!
- If you have been spending too much on that great Italian clothing or shoes, eat at a bar and have a sandwich or a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. It will be very inexpensive but delicious.
- Before going out to dinner stop at a bar advertising Happy Hour and have a drink and some appetizers.
On your next trip to Italy, don’t ignore these social bars. Stop in and become part of Italia. Enjoy Italy as an Italian. These are some of the small things we love watching tourists enjoy that is hard to get on a big formal tour.
George & Jo Anne