Not as much of a secret as they were in the days of Prohibition, the Eternal City is home not only to some of the finest sites and dining in the world, but also a tantalizing array of “naughty but oh, so nice”, hidden speakeasy cocktail dens.
Part of their appeal is that they are hard to find and not familiar to many people, neither foreign nor local. Yet, besides the Alice in Wonderland and anachronistic sensation which they evoke, they are imbued with rainbows of flavorsome cocktails. In fact they offer some of the finest and most sought-after liquid concoctions in all of Europe: perfect for both the amateur drinker as well as the more mature and sophisticated palate.
A bit of background – the term “Speakeasy” originated, interestingly enough, from the idea of firstly keeping your voice down whilst whetting your whistle within the bar (one can imagine with a chuckle the Charlie Chaplinesque “silent bar brawls” that must have broken out in hushed tones!), and secondly, to imply that one must never speak of their existence in public. Both to avoid detection by the authorities, of course.
Another noteworthy aspect of the speakeasy bars was the way in which they were concealed. In Rome one is carefully concealed behind a vintage phone booth, another behind a wardrobe in the corner of a restaurant. Some require a password to get in. But with this brief guide you’ll be able to gain access to what we consider to be the very best of Rome’s clandestine drinking spots.
The Corner Club:
Hidden within a stunning turn-of-the-century villa which is a boutique hotel with a most elegant restaurant and bistro (Bistreet), is the Parisian, boudoir-style speakeasy, The Corner Club. Open until the early hours of the morning, it has only about 20 seats, so best to get there earlier rather than later. With its carefully chosen décor, provocative intimacy and fabulous cocktail selection, it is located via a telephone cabinet where those in the know vanish after lifting the receiver and entering the “secret” number. Mysterious and not to be missed, on normal nights, when not being used for a private function, the phone is left unlocked.
Find The Corner Club in Viale Aventino 121, Mon – Sun, 7pm – 4am (+39 06 5742 149).
The Jerry Thomas Project:
Get on your 1920’s vibe and pop on into the JTP, that is, if you can find it! The brainchild of three internationally experienced barmen who came together to add extra flair to Roma’s nightlife, this funky speakeasy was the very first on the Roman landscape. Known as the top spot for chefs and barmen to unite, it is still regarded as the best in the game to those in the know. With a collection of over 800 bottles of spirits and their own production of artisan gin, vermouth and bitters, the tongue-tingling booze is accompanied by the wailing of top jazz musicians on Tuesdays and weekends. Concealed behind a door a neat little plate with the words “Professor Jerry Thomas” inscribed on it, access is given first to members, the lucky few who know the password, but if you call 24 hours in advance to reserve a couple of the limited 35 seats, you can get in without a membership or password.
Find the Jerry Thomas Project in Vicolo Cellini 30, Tues – Sat, 9pm – 4am
With a shabby chic bar area, bottles of colorful booze lined up like soldiers all the way to the ceiling, walls of brick and mortar and a really laid-back atmosphere, Club Derriere offers just the right sense of exclusivity and with no cell phone signal, a genuinely intimate experience. The den-like secrecy was heightened after its creator wall up the only windows and doors opening onto the adjacent piazza. And the entrance then, you rightly ask? It is hidden in/ behind a large white wardrobe which serves as the only point of access. Live jazz on weekend nights, no beer or wine, but the willingness to whip up any concoction that the patron might request, make Club Derriere the place to go for artisan liquors and a genuine Prohibition vibe.
Find Club Derriere in Vicolo delle Coppelle 59, Mon – Sat, 8pm – 4:30am / Sun, 12 – 4pm and 6pm – 2am
Another classic on the secret bar scene is this members-only underground speakeasy. On arrival one finds no more than a plain door with no sign or indication to reveal its charming and elegant cellar which is home to some of the city’s finest liquid refreshments. On arrival the doorman requires little encouragement before he accompanies you to meet the owners/barmen who, once having had a good look at you to be sure that you deserve a seat, will instantly make you members for a very small fee, less than 10 euros. Beware – once you take a seat in this richly vibrant little bar, it will take some work to convince you to leave. Regular live gigs and carefully concocted top-notch cocktails will keep you on your sofa well into the early hours.
Find Argot in Via dei Cappellari 93, Tue – Sat, 10:30pm – 5am / Sun, 7pm – 4am