San Lorenzo, Rome’s hip alternative Quarter
I recently wandered around San Lorenzo, one of Rome’s surprise trendy zones. Nestled behind the ancient Roman wall on Termini’s east side it has grown a reputation as a student haven and an edgy cultural hub. Once a downtrodden worker’s area, the location next to Sapienza University has started an underground youth culture, recently gentrified attracting bright artistic types. The result is a mix of cheap fun and super-fashionable venues to choose from with a rough and ready, anti-touristy vibe.
I started around Via Tiburtina, which offers a host of ultra-chic spots. Historic chocolate factory Said, on Via Tiburtina 135 makes a great first impression with glowing bold letters tucked behind the main street. Going since 1923, this is what Charlie had in mind for his factory. The tiny triumphs of artisan chocolate and deserts on display look almost too good to eat. It’s a multidisciplinary space, with chocolate shop and bistro combined that seem to go on forever. In the sophisticated sectioned dining area they offer contemporary dishes with friendly staff, perfect for a treat with lots of inspiration from their star ingredient: cocoa. My new favourite cocktail is their ‘Grasshopper’ with minty dark chocolate, which I tried with their Aperitivo plate for €12.
Next I tried Apartment Bar on dei Via Marrucini, 1 close by. Pink neon leads you to this up-and-comer recently to hit the Rome bar scene. It’s like a big living room equipped with 70’s retro jumble décor and faux fireplace with twinkling lights. The owners are progressive hosting eclectic events including live DJ Aperitivo and experimental DJ nights with a little spot to dance. They are cocktail professionals and use their mixology know-how to make really tasty tipples. I’m a fan of their rooftop ‘Paradise Garden’, like an oasis of canopies and tropical plants amid the patchwork of surrounding apartment blocks.
If you are on the hunt for new alcoholic inspirations, entering the Black Market San Lorenzo (Via dei Sardi, 50) will feel like stepping through Alice’s looking glass. Managers and staff Francesco, Sabrina and Alessandro envisioned this new venue like a natural evolution of the original Black Market in Monti and turned it into one of Rome’s most interesting mixology scenes. The Black Market is hard to define: art gallery/ music venue / bar and tea room it is designed to be just like “grandma’s living room”, with bossa nova in the background, dim lights, sofas and books.
Nearby, Pastificio San Lorenzo on Via degli Ausoni, 7 is an impressive sprawling creative complex. An ex-traditional pasta factory has been transformed into an artistic multi-floor initiative with design workshops, event spaces, photography studios and a chic eatery with cosmopolitan menu. The restaurant reminds me of an elegant old-time dance hall, with a minimalist bar area for Aperitivo (a tasteful plate of novel nibbles and wine for €10) and open dining space. Quality is key here so this place is great for a splurge, with select ingredients meant to rediscover traditional methods in innovative ways.
Pifebo! Right around the corner I noticed with glee that the best vintage store chain in Rome have a branch in San Lorenzo on Via dei Volsci 101b. A riot of colour, I trawled the small but stuffed treasure trove for quality unique finds among reams of bags, clothes, shoes and accessories.
I followed the inspiring graffiti art and the sound of Djembe drums and merriment to Piazza dell’Immacolata. This is a popular studenty spot to grab a drink in the many surrounding cheap bars and chat on the piazza steps. Nearby, Giufa café/bar on Via Degli Aurunci 38 has the best and most unusual graphic novel selection in Rome, along with a haphazard boho-chic style of chequered floors and mismatching tables. It’s a place you can while away a whole evening. Their hot choc is a favourite, but I’m rather partial to the port while leisurely chatting or catching up on emails.
I couldn’t miss a drink at Rome’s book bar, Bar à Book on Via dei Piceni, 23 . This place is definitely under-reviewed. It looks like a converted shabby-chic ex garage just like the ones I saw in Berlin, the homeland of vintage cool. It hosts diverse intimate gigs, DJ sets and workshops. Lined with bookshelves and cosy vintage armchairs and couches it has an inviting relaxed feel, laid-back staff and the prices aren’t bad either.
I capped the evening off with a short stroll to Crossover music venue on Via degli Equi, 22 to catch a booming Blues jam session. I first heard about this place when I played here with my own band. It’s got a funky gritty feel that’s perfect for a venue devoted to live music, with bad-ass portraits of classic music legends adorning the walls. They always have something going on, from Rock and Reggae to Blues and more, when their comfy seats are pushed aside for a makeshift dance floor. The atmosphere evokes San Lorenzo’s roots of low prices and alternative creativity.