A ultimate guide to the best speakeasies in Rome.
As Italy begins to reopen its borders and businesses, there is no doubt that restaurants and bars will flood with eager people dying to get their hands on a creamy carbonara or a refreshing spritz.
Italian culture thrives on social gatherings, and what better place to indulge than the plentiful bars that the eternal city has to offer? However, if you’re a bit uneasy about the concept of crowds yet still want to enjoy a satisfying cocktail, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. Enter speakeasies.
What are speakeasies?
In 1919, the U.S. banned the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcohol. They subsequently got to work on closing down bars and saloons nationwide. As they say, though, absence makes the heart grow fonder. (Or was it absinthe?) This closure did not stop citizens from finding a way to indulge as the 1920s saw the emergence of secret bars and taverns where deprived citizens could enjoy a drink incognito.
By 1925, speakeasies were multiplying like rabbits; there were thousands in New York City alone. While many people associate the roaring 20s with a Gatsby-esque lifestyle, not all of the bars were glamorous. Often, prospective patrons would lean into a keyhole to utter a password (this is where the name speakeasy was believed to originate) and enter to find a seedy saloon or run-down basement. No matter how flashy or dingy the bar was, they found a way to let loose, and now you can too.
Rome has a nice collection of speakeasy bars for you to satisfy your craving.
The Jerry Thomas Project
Perhaps the most well-known speakeasy in Rome (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) is The Jerry Thomas Project. This bar silently screams glitz and glamour when you enter, as you are instantly immersed in a plush interior and the sounds of swanky jazz music.
The cocktails are cohesive with the theme as most of them are from the 19th or 20th century. It is required to have a booking in advance, and I would recommend getting there a bit early as the unmarked bar truly blends with the surrounding buildings. The cocktails are a bit pricey at about 15 euros, give or take, but the bar is ranked 50th in the world, so it is worth it.
Address: Vicolo Cellini 30.
Barber Shop, at first glance, is a standard men’s hair salon. The basement, though, transforms into a members-only club that’s open from dusk until dawn. Mustache-clad men with tattoos serve the delicious and simplistic cocktails that are made with only three ingredients each. The membership is only a one-time five euro fee, so you can live out your Peaky Blinders fantasy without paying a large sum.
Address: Via Iside 2.
Next is a bar that is hidden in plain sight. With a rustic interior and meticulous techniques, this bar is sure to please a wide variety of patrons. They draw inspiration from the 18th century medicinal methods of using alcohol and utilize an ice carving technique where the ice is demineralized and carved on the spot in a sphere or diamond shape.
Some ingredients are on the funkier side, such as pistachio, rice, and leather zest. The name “Argot” derives from 16th century France’s colloquial jargon, heavily used in an underground setting to allow them to communicate under the radar. So, if you’re looking for something perhaps more riveting than the crowded bars that are typically associated with Campo de Fiori: look no further.
Address: Via dei Cappellari 93.
Club Derriere is another speakeasy with a fitting French name. Derriere means “behind”, and you’ll find this groovy bar behind Piazza delle Coppolle. After entering through one of two doors, you’ll proceed to the back to find a white wardrobe. In a speakeasy fashion, you whisper a password, and voila. As opposed to the rustic room with the white closet, the speakeasy has a grunge yet sophisticated urban feel.
Address: Vicolo delle Coppelle 59.
The Race Club
The Race Club is a cozy bar with eccentric decorations and a warm-lighted atmosphere. The drink menu separates into classic cocktails and signature cocktails. Standard beverages such as old-fashioned and Manhattan are featured on the classic cocktail page, and signature cocktails include more intricate cocktails such as Jalapeño Mules (made with jalapeño-infused tequila) and The Sea Monster (made with Kraken rum, pineapple puree, and chocolate bitters).
The Race Club provides a list of rules such as how to pay (cash-only and only one check per group) and what to wear (they advise you not to get dressed in a rush or you will have a long “pit-stop” outside the club). Make sure to sign up ahead of time as the club is members only.
Address: Via Labicana 52.
Here, you can listen to the live music and sip a unique cocktail such as the 7 ½ ( Campari, coffee infused vermouth, Frangelico, orange bitters, and foam from a citrus beer) or the Mexican Turnover (black pepper infused Jose Cuervo tequila, mezcal, “aria di bloody mary”, lime, orange, and honey). They also have an extensive food menu, complete with sfizi, burgers, and gourmet burgers. Ph: Livia Mucchi
Address: Via Fanfulla da Lodi 53.
Rome has a vibrant nightlife: before COVID-19, people packed in the piazzas with plastic cups of Aperol or Campari spritz clutched in their hands into late hours of the night. As Italy continues its prolonged journey of returning to normal, restaurants and bars slowly open up and invite old friends back in a warm embrace. If you’ve gone around to areas such as Trastevere or Testaccio, it is inevitable you will come across some fantastic bars. Still, if you want to try something different, these speakeasies will be a refreshing change of scenery.