Italian Bars 101

caffe doorAmericans are often confused about Italian bars – and with good reason. Italian bars are very, very different from American bars. To better understand what an Italian bar is all about, it’s best to start with what it is not.

caffe.005It’s not where you go to sit, listen to loud music and drink cocktails, it’s not where you go to dance, and it’s not where you go to drink beer and eat chicken wings.

So what is an Italian bar all about, anyway?

Italian bars are an integral part of Italian culture and a fixture in nearly every community. Even the smallest of villages might have several bars, one for each neighborhood. In our home town of Fabro, population 2,951, there are more than a dozen bars – and that’s not counting the restaurants that also have bars.

caffe.003Some bars are also pasticcerie (bakeries) and some double as gelaterie. Some have flower-filled terraces and umbrella-shaded cafe tables, while others are basic – just a couple of stools and an espresso machine. Many are nondescript on the outside, but filled with wonderful things on the inside, like our favorite “home” bar, La Colonnetta. (Oh, the pastries!)

Although Italian bars usually sell alcoholic drinks, the beverage of choice (by a very wide margin) is coffee. The quantity of espresso served in Italian bars is staggering. Un caffè (regular espresso) is served constantly, from daybreak to midnight, while variations made with milk are usually served in the morning, such as caffè macchiato (espresso with a “stain” of hot milk), latte macchiato (hot milk with a “stain” of espresso) and cappuccino (espresso with hot milk and foam). In fact, cappuccino is virtually never ordered after 11:00am, except by tourists. 🙂

caffe.004But Italian bars are not just about coffee. They provide a social anchor to the community. It’s where you stop – at any time, on any given day – to see old friends, to visit with neighbors and to find out what’s happening in town. It’s where retired men sit at outside tables and play cards into the night, and where new moms bring babies to introduce them to … well … everyone. Italian bars are a comfort zone – a place where extended family and friends can connect. And Italians are all about connecting!

So the next time you venture to Italy – particularly the rural countryside areas of Italy – seek out a local bar and make it your “own” bar during your stay. Besides being a great way to learn more about local customs, regulars will soon be greeting you like a long-lost family member.

And you’ll soon be oohing and aahing about that new baby along with everyone else.


pamelaPamela Haack is an author and Italy travel consultant who specializes in creating personalized experiences for adventurous couples and small groups, helping them to better explore Italy – off the beaten strada.

Get your FREE copy of Pamela’s Italy Trip Planning Tips, plus her FREE Off the Beaten Strada ezine filled with recipes, regional stories, practical travel tips and news from off the beaten strada in the heart of Italy. Click here.

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