Although it probably boasts more bars per capita than any other major city in the world (eight pages of fine print in the telephone directory), Rome is not what you would call a drinking man's town.
Like the brasseries of Paris, the bars of Rome exist mainly for the quick, stand-up consumption of coffee, pastries, sandwiches and fruit juice. They are the Eternal City's equivalent of short-order joints, with beer and booze available but rarely ordered.
Still, there are a few relaxing and even clubby watering holes of the kind that Americans and Englishmen favor. My favorite--and I share the choice with many of the city's foreign correspondents, film celebrities and the more gregarious of the city's Anglophone business people--is the mahogany-paneled bar of the Hotel d'Inghilterra.
The Inghilterra bar is situated behind the lobby of one of Rome's most fashionable hotels, just a block off luxurious Via Condotti, but it has somehow escaped the formality and stuffiness of many hotel bars. Instead, it has all the convivial qualities of a warm and friendly neighborhood saloon, and the same qualities are reflected in the chief bartender, Mario Pinchetti.
At the Inghilterra, a mixed drink costs about $3.50, a glass of wine about a dollar less. The place is, in truth, a neighborhood bar. Among the regulars who stop by virtually every day is Prince Alessandro Torlonia, who lives in the block-square palace across the street. The hotel was his family's guest house until 1850, when it went commercial and began entertaining such paying guests as Mark Twain, Hans Christian Andersen and, much later, Ernest Hemingway.
Like all really good bartenders, Mario has the demeanor and discretion of a jovial priest. This he combines with an exacting professionalism that has won him a sizable following for producing what some of us believe to be the best Bloody Mary and probably the second best dry martini in Italy. (Best-martini honors go to Leo of Harry's Bar in Florence--not the overrated Harry's of Venice.)
If Mario is off duty, fear not. His alter-ego behind the bar, Gino Carlei, has the same endearing personal and professional qualities.
Hotel d'Inghilterra, Via Bocca di Leone 14, Rome 00187. Telephone 672161.