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Rome's Cocktail King Patrick Pistolesi Serves up the Eternal City

Patrick Pistolesi And The Drink Kong Team.  Credit: Alberto Blasetti

Patrick Pistolesi And The Drink Kong Team. Credit: Alberto Blasetti

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Patrick Pistolesi knows Rome and its drinking scene. The renowned Irish-Italian barman grew up in the Eternal City and, for more than 20 years, he served up cocktails at the capital’s most iconic night spots. But summers spent in Dublin also gave the future tippler a taste of more casual pub culture from his Irish cousins. 

From no-name, no-frills boltholes to internationally recognized lounges, Pistolesi worked his way around bar counters to become one of Italy’s best bartenders and Rome’s reigning king of cocktails — his last name alone is one of the active ingredients in the evolution of Italy’s craft cocktail scene.

“The nuclear physics [of cocktails] is easy to learn,” Pistolesi said. “But it’s all about trust. You have to earn your clientele. They choose you for a reason.” 

But it’s never been about flair or difficulty for the 40-year-old mixologist. “You definitely need ability,” he said, “but you have to be curious, empathic, cheeky and smiley. Remember: people come to the bar to have a good time. Nobody wants a lesson after work.” Get a taste of Rome’s cocktail renaissance with a tippling tour of some of Pistolesi’s favorite places.

Press play for more on how Patrick got behind the bar and scroll down for his favorite places to grab a drink in Rome.

Drink Kong. Credit: Alberto Blasetti

Drink Kong

Creating an easy, slide-up-to-the-bar-after-work vibe is Pistolesi’s forte. For a taste of his talents, check out his 2018-opened, sci-fi-influenced cocktail lounge. 

With film series Blade Runner and Japanese manga comic books as inspiration, Kong is a 3,229-square-foot labyrinth of dark-hued lounges, backlit bars, neon lights, harlequin floors and arcade games — consider it an homage to Pistolesi’s love of neo-noir 1980s futurism.  

Drink Kong’s Customized Ice Cubes. Credit: Alberto Blasetti

Kong is all about trust. It’s a self-proclaimed “instinct bar,” with a menu based on flavor. Yes, you can get a negroni, but bartenders encourage you to talk about what you like and then trust them to choose one of the carefully crafted seasonal drinks, like Summer Kup, a gin cocktail with grape juice, sambuca (an Italian anise-flavored liqueur) and Scottish peaches. Keep your eye on the ice — smooth, large cubes imprinted with Kong’s logo.

For an ultra-exclusive experience, head through the shoji doors to the Omakase Room. This tiny, cherry-wood-paneled space features a wall of caged alcoves holding rare whiskeys and sake, and a 10-seat table reserved for private tastings and master classes.

Freni e Frizioni

According to Pistolesi, this casual spot in Trastevere is a “good street bar with a punk attitude.” 

Set up like a car repair shop, the street-side stop serves up great alt-rock-inspired drinks (The New York Dolls is a violet-hued tipple of vodka, lavender liqueur and pink grapefruit) and draws a crowd for aperitivi (and its free buffet of nibbles) between 7 and 10 p.m.   

“There are a lot of people diving in and out of the bar, and it’s a great scene,” Pistolesi said.

Tiki Tiki Roof 

“In Rome, you can’t miss the rooftops and there are several with great bars,” Pistolesi said. One of the mixologist’s recent favorites is this island-themed terrace at La Griffe MGallery by Sofitel near Termini Train Station. Come for the mojitos, but stay for the views. 

The Divinity Terrace Lounge Bar

Another of the bartender’s recommendations is this scenic spot atop The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel. The alfresco lounge sits eye-to-eye with Rome’s beloved ancient monument and lets the view inspire its drink menu with cocktails like Jupiter’s Martini, an ode to the supreme divinity of Roman mythology. 

Baccano

In need of a classic martini? Pistolesi heads to this Mediterranean bistro near the Trevi Fountain. The French-style brasserie is cozy and elegant with woven seats, leather booths and a well-stocked oyster bar.  

“Baccano is [a] more serious restaurant bar and the food is great,” he said, “but you’re there for the full, good martini that just comes with style.” His choice: the extra dry Baccano Martini with a twist of lemon.

Club Derrière

Pistolesi also grabs a seat at this back-alley speakeasy on Vicolo delle Coppelle, near Piazza Navona. Another secretive spot that requires a password, the tiny bar is all about style, from its exposed walls and leather chairs to the jazz tunes that permeate the moody atmosphere. Its innovative drinks rotate regularly, but past libations have included Floral and Vanity, a spirited combination of tequila, lime, elderflower and agave syrup.

The Jerry Thomas Project

Pistolesi’s late-night lineup always includes this vanguard speakeasy that is credited with introducing craft cocktails to the Eternal City.  

“This is the bar that made [Rome’s cocktail scene] happen,” Pistolesi said. “Before Jerry Thomas, no one was making or drinking quality cocktails.” 

To enter, you’ll need a reservation, the password and a nominal membership fee, but it’s a small price to pay. The bartenders here are some of the very best in the city, and they will change up the menu on a whim. 

If you can’t decide what to order, you can count on a mean negroni here.

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, August 2019.

Rome's Regola: The Foodie Neighborhood You Need to Visit

This Under-the-Radar Neighborhood in Rome Is the Foodie Destination You Need to Visit

Home to not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants. 

This article was first published in Travel + Leisure, February 2019.

Rome’s centro storico is the city’s beating heart, home to historic monuments, trendy boutiques, and stately palaces. But the bustling neighborhood is more than just a tourist hotspot — it’s where Romans live, work, and most importantly, eat.

In the very center of the dynamic district is Regola, a micro-neighborhood whose culinary delights have managed to stay miraculously under-the-radar — until now. Here, gourmet restaurants take up residence inside grand townhouses, centuries-old churches, and Renaissance palaces. Stand at the crossroads of Vicolo della Moretta, Via dei Banchi Vecchi, and Via del Pellegrino, and you are walking distance from not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants.

Regola has always been a go-to neighborhood for Roman cuisine, but its emergence as a gourmet epicenter is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. Il Pagliaccio, Antony Genovese’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, arguably started it all. In 2003, the French-born Italian chef was walking along one of Regola's most scenic streets and fell in love with the area’s tucked-away appeal.

“The neighborhood chose me,” says Genovese. “It's in the very center of the city, but removed from the chaos.”

Once Il Pagliaccio opened its doors, Regola saw a deluge of other hot ticket tables, starting with Supplizio, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in elevated Roman street food. Sink into one of the deep leather armchairs and order a few of the restaurant’s best-known bites: supplì (fried rice balls filled with mozzarella and chicken giblets), crema fritta (fried cream custard) and crocchette di patate (potato croquettes).

In 2015, chef Giulio Terrinoni debuted Per Me Giulio Terrinoni on Regola’s ivy-covered Vicolo della Moretta. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s innovative “tappi” (tapas-style snacks) quickly won over the hearts (and stomachs) of epicureans around the city. The seasonal menu changes daily, but sample dishes include cappellacci pasta stuffed with guinea fowl and smoked pecorino and prawn carpaccio with foie gras and red onion jelly.

Pipero Roma has been one of the city’s top fine dining addresses for nearly a decade. In 2017, the restaurant's acclaimed chef, Alessandro Pipero, found another home for the Michelin-star restaurant, on the northeastern edge of Regola.

His main reason: “Gluttony — Regola is the most calorific neighborhood in all of Rome and Lazio.”

The restaurant’s new incarnation occupies a sleek open space, with high ceilings, contemporary art, and elegant arched doorways. The food is as tempting as ever: tamarind-glazed cod with white chocolate and artichokes, oyster linguini dusted with paprika, and passion fruit-topped ricotta risolatte.

Wine lovers will want to make a stop at Enoteca Il Goccetto, a rustic wine bar with over 850 different labels on its wooden shelves, while cocktail enthusiasts should grab a tipple at The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, a retro-styled bar that serves a mean Blue Blazer (essentially a Hot Toddy made with high-proof scotch).

If your visit falls on the last Sunday of the month, you won't want to missBiomercato, an outdoor market that sells fresh fruit, local produce, and cured meats. Take home a souvenir from your foodie detour by stocking up on organic honey and olive oil from Lazio producers. 

5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

Bangkok
The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

Milan
When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Florence
Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

Rome
When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.

3 New Rome Restaurants, Forbes Travel

Talking Digital Italy with Tamu TV and All The Pretty Birds

There are a few things in life I can't say "no" to: gazpacho, a quick trip to Milan and a great conversation with a fabulous friend.   That's a trifecta rarely attained, if at all, until this past July when Tamu McPherson, the eye and voice behind All the Pretty Birds and Milan girl about town, invited me to her cafe to talk about Italy in the Digital Age.

Here's a little back story:  I've being following Tamu and All the Pretty Birds for years, from her beginning as a street style photographer and to her evolution into one of fashion's bestlifestyle blogs.  I've long loved Tamu's style- writing, behind the lense and her fresh look on fashion.  Most of all, I love how much she loves and lives Milan through art, culture and fasthion.  Tamu's Cafe is a food/lifestyle series that brings fashion, design and food luminaries to the table, so you can imagine how flattered I was when she invited to bring over a recipe.

Tune into Tamu TV for a little bit of gazpacho, Milan-with-a-view, a chat about Italy in the Digital Age with me!

On Deck: Riva Lounge at Venice's Gritti Palace

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Before I headed to Venice for the Venice Biennale,  I heard the news that the Gritti Palace was opening a new canal side lounge bar designed by Riva Yacht.  Yep, that Riva, the gorgeous and century-old boat-making company of luxury flotilla (runabouts, row boats, yachts, motoscafi and all) that has the remarkable ability to make my heart beat just a little faster  and my mind conjure up overly styled images of me arriving in my best cruise wear just upon hearing the those beautiful syllables: riva.   Did I mention it is canal-side? Ahem, Grand Canal side? And thus Riva Lounge was shortlisted for cocktails in my Biennale beat, in other words, 24/7 pastries, art, cocktails, repeat.

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Here's my take: the Riva Lounge location (front row view of Venice's Salute and Punta della Dogana and a 4 minute walk to Piazza San Marco) is worth the Bellini alone. What solidifies it as a place where I will be having repeat cocktails are the details. Long known for its unforgettable style both large and small- wooden hulls through the 1960s and sublime sexy fiberglass from the 1970s forward, hand-stitched upholstery, gorgeous chrome ornaments, and color, precisely picked color, Riva Yacht has given the exact same attention to its land-locked vessel, aka The Riva Lounge.

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And it is on fleek.  The classic design is subtle at times, and best shown off in its aerodynamic, Acquarama-inspired chairs of nautical Navy blue back casing, white upholstering, and chrome.  But I had my eye on a table- the gorgeous round  tops made of inlaid wood and chrome.  My only suggestion to Gritti is to not cover them with linen cloths during table service so that people, like myself, can obsess over the chrome while enjoying the bacalà tris and a Riva cockail.  I've never been shy to share how much I love the classic and unforgettable Riva lettering.

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If design and material is so very Riva, so is color.  Riva's Robin's egg blue is just the menu,  but also the signature Riva Cocktail (orgeat syrup, white rum, orange bitters, grapefruit juice). The menu itself is a very lovely selection of light Venetian dishes, including the Bacalà tris.  But next time you find me there, I'll be the woman testing out the cocktails and cicchetti.

Riva Lounge at The Gritti Palace

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce

Rome's Three Snazziest Cocktail Bars, Forbes Travel

There is no better assignment for me than finding out where the best cocktails in my hometown are.  And since I believe in intense research and trial and error, I had a great time investigating Rome's Top Three Cocktail Bars for Forbes Travel, originally appearing in publication on May 26, 2015. Dove facciamo aperitivi (“Where are we going to get drinks tonight”)? That’s a question heard often in Rome, a city where mixology is blended into everything these days, but sometimes leaving a bit of sour retrogusto. But these days, cocktail connoisseurs aren’t much worried about any unpleasant aftertastes, especially considering how many maestro mixologists across the city are conceiving inimitable cocktails with incredible presentation. For your next night of fabulous drinking around Rome, we’ve got three places in mind.

CHORUS
CHORUS

Chorus Caffe Chorus is Rome’s newest lounge bar and it has all the necessary ingredients for an incredible aperitivo: exemplary cocktails, sunset hours and a great location. Though the neighborhood is a bit quiet (Chorus is literally down the street from the Vatican), the lounge bar is nothing short of a libation lover’s paradise thanks to original 1920s Art Deco design that sets a modern vintage vibe (see high ceilings, a wall of windows, original marble, velvet divans and a glowing bar counter). Behind the bar is Massimo d’Addezio, considered one of Italy’s top bartenders and the man who brought back cocktails to Rome. D’Addezio lovingly creates drinks (the 17 ½ is made with vodka, lime juice, passion flower syrup, crushed ice, cayenne pepper essence and mint leaves) inspired by experiences and tastes. He also enjoys rehashing traditional favorites. His bar has a full range of liquors, some of them so unique it’s almost a shame to drink them. Almost.

Italy - Latium
Italy - Latium

Caffè Propaganda(Colosseo) Styled as a café littéraire (harlequin floors, white tiles, dramatic chandeliers, an oak credenza), the Francophile-inspired Caffè Propaganda pulled a cocktail coup d’état at the start of 2015 by bringing in one of Rome’s top bartenders, Patrick Pistolesi, to helm its vintage bar. Pistolesi revamped the cocktail list, creating a seasonal menu of 13 original recipes that use Italian favorites like chinotto, fernet, Cocchi Americano and Campari, as well as staples such as Amer Picon, Lillet and rye. The overall vibe here is laid-back chic, so many people come just to hang out at the gorgeous white zinc bar and chat with Pistolesi, who is incredibly gracious not just in how he makes the Cinquieme Arrondissement (gin, jasmine and Mandarin Sambuca, lime, sugar and a splash of red wine) or Jimmy Hoffa (rye, syrup and aromatic bitter), but in sharing the inspiration behind the drinks.

Albergo-DOM-a-Roma_0023
Albergo-DOM-a-Roma_0023

The Deer Club (Centro Storico) Built in a 15th-century palazzo, boutique hotel D.O.M is the perfect mix of naughty and nice. The palace is attached to a Baroque church on its back end; meanwhile, D.O.M. faces the headquarters of Italy’s Anti-Mafia Commission. The juxtaposition is divine, and so is The Deer Club, a truly Roman trifecta of bar, restaurant and rooftop terrace. The former is a tiny gray- and black-lacquered lounge area that is just big enough for a few of your closest friends to have a gin-infused tête-à-tête with Davide Guglielmelli and Valerio Bonanni’s beautifully arranged cocktails. The Martinez (Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino and orange bitter) and Suit & Tie (Cognac, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, crème de cacao blanc, sugar syrup, orange and chocolate bitters) are two of our favorites right now.