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Raising the Bar: Why Italian Bars Are Better Than American Bars

By: Vincent Ventura

The word “bar” exists both in the English and Italian languages. They are spelled the same. For the most part, they are pronounced the same too (though the Italian accent tends to add a little more of an emphasis on the “r”). Yet if you walk into an Italian bar expecting the conventions of an American bar, you may be a little surprised. In fact, you might even be a little disappointed about how much better Italian bars are. No preoccupare (don’t worry)! Here, I’ll explain why:

Italian Bars are open all day, not just at night. Just like American Bars, Italian bars can range in size from hole-in-the-walls to spaces more akin to small restaurants, with several seating areas and tables. While American Bars are typically places to order alcoholic beverages and appetizers only, Italian Bars are something quite different entirely. Here, you can eat every meal at the day from breakfast to dinner. Italian bars are kind of like a combination of traditional American bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Breakfast is better by the Banco (Counter).Italian bars open early in the morning, just in time for breakfast. Here you can purchase the two major components of an Italian breakfast: a pastry and some coffee. Typically, many bars sell an assortment of freshly baked sweets either made in house or delivered from a nearby pasticceria. These can range from flaky cornetti (Italian croissants sometimes stuffed with pastry cream or Nutella) to ciambelle (sugary soft doughnuts). There really is no bad choice!

Once you select your treat, decide on a beverage. Coffee in Italy is a culture itself. In an Italian bar, you will find no flavored syrups, no size selection, or frappucinos. Instead, you will find premium-roasted coffee at a fraction of the American price. There are a variety of options to choose from, but here are some of the most popular:

  • caffe: a shot of espresso
  • caffe macchiato: a shot of espresso, stained with milk
  • caffe americano: espresso with added hot work. Close to standard American coffee but slightly different in taste
  • cappuccino
  • caffe latte: like a cappuccino, but made with more milk and less foam. The closest you’ll get to an American latte

Note that Italians take their time drinking their coffee, savoring every last drop. This means that to-go plastic cups are almost nonexistent. So whatever you order, you will need to finish it before leaving the bar. It is common for an Italian to consume their breakfast through the following procedure: 1) sip coffee 2) bite pastry 3) submerge pastry into coffee 4) inhale coffee-stained pastry 5) repeat. This cycle takes place standing at the counter, sometimes accompanied by a newspaper or some chitchat.

Aperitivo: Italian Happy Hour. When most people think of complimentary food at bars, they think of a bowl of salty peanuts or stale potato chips. Not in Italy! The Italians have perfecting their happy-hour-game with what they call aperitivo. Essentially it works like this: you purchase a drink (most bars have a choice of both alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages) and you gain all you can eat access to a buffet of food. It’s a fantastic way to start an evening or substitute dinner without killing your entire budget! You only need to purchase one drink to participate in aperitivo but it can cost you between 8-14€. Although it may seem like a heavy price for a drink, it’s a worthy investment if you really take advantage of the buffet. Before committing to an aperitivo, examine the spread of food. Remember: all aperitivi are not created equally. If you can’t see the buffet from the window, ask the barista and they will gladly show you.

The people are fantastic. The Italian Bar constantly is shape shifting to fulfill different needs depending on the time of day. With so many reasons to go to an Italian bar, the people are always diverse. Some young, some old, some rush, others linger, some locals, some tourists. It is the ultimate place to meet new people, and even test out some Italian.

Moral of the story: don’t leave Italy without enjoying an Italian Bar.

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