Aperitivo hotspots: where to eat for (almost) free in Rome

by Rakhi Sinha

Rome has a reputation for being pricey - but go to the right place at the right time and you can eat for free. Come aperitivo time, these are best best bars to head for in Italy's Eternal City

I first caught wind of aperitivo while on holiday with my boyfriend in Italy this summer. On our very last night in Florence, we were recommended a bar with, we were told, generous helpings of free food. The catch, you ask? You have to buy a drink. And that’s it.

We went along and were amazed to discover a huge table piled high with food. At first we were shy then, as the alcohol took over, we piled our plates higher and higher, and no one batted an eyelid. In fact, everyone else was doing the same. We vowed to find more of the same in the next stop on our Italian vacation: Rome.

Originating in Milan but becoming increasingly popular in other cities, l’aperitivo is the social hour (or two) before dinner where you can relax with friends over drinks and snacks before heading on to a restaurant or back home to eat. It’s usually between 7 and 9pm and is similar to Happy Hour - but more sophisticated, obviously, for we are in Italy, darling. Think hip, stylish bar rather than local pub. This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. On the contrary, find the right bar and you could strike it rich, as it’s the perfect way to feast in the Eternal City for those on a budget.

Depending on where you go, the price of a drink is usually accompanied by tasty bites. Some offer modest nibbles like olives, cheese and nuts, whilst others impress with huge all-you-can-eat buffets of finger food, pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. Yes, the drinks are slightly more expensive but you do get dinner thrown in to the bargain and it's a great way to socialise with the locals.

During the day, as you’re sightseeing around the city, keep your eyes peeled for ‘Aperitivo’ signs in cafes and bars, then pop back later to check them out. To help you on your way, the following is a short round-up of some of Rome’s more generous aperitivo hotspots.

Freni e Frizioni

Freni e Frizioni is housed in a former mechanics garage (hence the name: it means Brakes and Friction) in the trendy Trastevere neighbourhood. The interior, with old-fashioned furniture, opulent chandeliers, contemporary prints and a well-stocked bar, attracts an artsy crowd who lap up sumptuous cocktails and tuck into the abundant aperitivo. The enormous spread, served in the back room, includes healthy delights such as spiced rice, crunchy salads, Moroccan-style couscous, seasonal fruit, pasta dishes and home-made sauces. As it gets busier, the bar overflows onto the terrazza towards the Tiber. Get there early to nab a spot and a tasty cocktail.
Via della Politeama 4-6 (Trastevere); +39 06 58 33 42 10; www.freniefrizioni.com. Open Mon-Sat 19.00-02.00. Wine from €5, cocktails from €6.


Another generous aperitivo spread can be found at this sleek little cocktail bar in the historic centre, near Piazza Navona. Designed by the American-Italian architect Michele Marchese, this minimalistic music bar/club, with playful explosions of light and plasma screen walls, regularly hosts DJs spinning electronica and house. During the aperitivo hour, the long curving bar is laden with finger food such as mini pizzas, sushi, pastas, a variety of salads, desserts and more (and more).
Via del Governo Vecchio 46/47 (Piazza Navona); +39 06 68 32 361; www.fluideventi.com. Open 18.00-02.00. Wine from €6, cocktails from €7.

Société Lutece

This boho, cool bar owned by the same gang as Freni e Frizioni but with a more laidback, intimate feel, is tucked away in a little piazza near Piazza Navona. Space is tight inside, so many opt to stand in the piazza with mojito and food in hand. The tasty aperitivo buffet on offer is similar to that at Freni e Frizioni and just like at its sister venture, you won’t leave hungry.
Piazza di Montevecchio 17 (Piazza Navona); +39 06 68 30 14 72; www.societe-lutece.it. Open till late; closed Sun. Wine from €4, cocktails from €6.