A bartender opens the smallest cocktail bar in Rome with only six seats

Mar 28 2024, 15:08
The smallest cocktail bar in the capital opens in Testaccio. Six seats and a philosophy: "popular luxury" according to Christian Donnie Comparone

If there is a place where the oxymoron "popular luxury" can find embodiment, that is Rome. And the popular district of Testaccio is its most evident realization, at least if we look at it from the couch of Lonely Avenue, the tiny cocktail bar just opened by Christian "Donnie" Comparone with his friend, partner, and right-hand man Maurizio Bernardini in Via Luca della Robbia, behind one of the most popular signs in the Capital, Da Felice.

A six-seat cocktail bar

Luxury is concentrated in those 4-6 seats where you can sit right under the counter and in the 50 super-premium bottles from which the Roman bartender guarantees the preparation of at least 200 great classics of world mixology. Pop, on the other hand, is all around: it is not at all unusual to see the lady returning from her evening shopping enter the bar wanting to enjoy a Campari or a spritz elaborated by one of the promises of Italian mixed drinking (and not only). So, if the other night Christian offered an American customer who had been living in the neighborhood for years a $100 Old Fashioned by opening a Caol lla 18 Years Old Islay, while we were in the bar, a lady intrigued by the reopening of this shutter gave herself a Campari and soda at a price of 15 euros.

With British-style crisps (flavored with cider vinegar and sea salt) and toasted and salted almonds from the nearby pastry shop. But is the spritz Prosecco and Aperol or Campari? I mean, like in any other bar? "No, of course not," Christian smiles. "I have to be consistent with my choice, and my cocktails are all (except for special selections) between 18 and 20 euros. If you ask for a spritz, I'll make you a Paper Plane (whisky, Aperol, Montenegro amaro, lemon), and if you want a Campari soda, I'll make you either a Rome with view (Bitter Roma, dry vermouth, lime, and sugar with a soda top). They are two 'modern classics' that present those flavors in a structured, pleasant, and balanced context: tradition updated to modern mixing. After all, this is what matters to me, the way I want to work and the world I want to present to my guests." And for bubbles? Do you use Prosecco or what? "Only Franciacorta," he says. "We also have small formats!"

Lonely Avenue in Testaccio

The "lupetti" of Rome and Benigni's wedding rings

Here, in this tiny 30-square-meter locale named after a poignant 1956 Ray Charles track, there used to be Christian's grandmother's jewelry store, also a showcase of popular luxury: it was famous for the golden "lupetti" of Rome and at the same time made wedding rings for Benigni and De Sica.
"I wanted to come back here," Christian explains, "after having had a series of important experiences between Sydney, London, and Tokyo. Here, I wanted to recreate that concept of hospitality that I loved so much in Japan, where I worked in a club on the third floor of an apartment building: 10 seats where guests were people looking more for company than alcohol, and where the bartender becomes a friend, a confidant rather than just a cocktail maker. In this locale, we can build tailor-made drinks, crafted perfectly for our guests: create thematic paths, explore the best glories of international mixology," he explains as he prepares a Cardinal and tells its story. "A cocktail that originated at the Excelsior on Via Veneto from the meeting between Federico Fellini and the bartender Vincenzo Balestra: a celebration of the role that the Church has had and has in Rome in making it a city where the balance between bourgeoisie, people, and nobility has always been at a rich human level. Here, with the tempered gentrification that Testaccio is experiencing, where you find both the old retired resident and the recently arrived wealthy American side by side, we can now truly speak of popular luxury in Testaccio. The two souls merge and enrich each other."

The Umeboshi Milkshake is made with Sloe Gin, Umeshu, rice milk, dried plum syrup, ooto flower powder, yuzu, and red shiso leaves.

Only high-end labels

Comparone's work tools are all behind him. "There are about fifty different bottles, all carefully chosen and of superior quality," explains the bartender. "Even for the gin and tonic, the base is Tanqueray Ten, the bourbon is Bulleit 10 years, not 8. The maraschino is Drioli, not Luxardo: they give you half the amount at twice the cost. The white rum is Diplomatico, and the dark one is Zacapa 23, and the vermouth is from Turin, Cocchi." Why choose expensive labels and not cheaper bottles? Does it really make sense? "Of course! In drinks, as in food, it is still possible to distinguish a quality product from a poor one. Knowing how to drink means choosing those products in such a way as to be able to improve your evening rather than ruin it," explains Christian. "A vermouth at 30 euros a bottle has a complexity of flavors that can be expressed at its best even on an inexperienced palate compared to a product at 10 euros a bottle that cannot express a 'tradition,' cannot tell the complexity of a story precisely because it is destined for a more commercial and superficial use."

Lonely Avenue's mission

This tiny cocktail bar in Testaccio was actually born 5 years ago, six months before Covid. Initially, it was a private club. Then it also became a laboratory where Christian could give specialist courses, consultations, and build new drinks. "It was a job that interested me and that also allowed me to be in close contact with the world of mixed drinking, after my experience at Rhinoceros by Alda Fendi," explains Christian, avoiding mentioning his successor there, who stumbled upon an improbable drink list tainted with racism. "Then I managed to get a license, not an easy adventure here because they are rationed. And so we decided to open up to the public, to fully live in the neighborhood." Here the mission of "consultancy" and training becomes that of storytelling, of telling the stories behind the great drinks and the journey of mixed drinking, so as to accompany guests on a path of awareness and knowledge that allows both to drink better and to enrich their soul with the stories and flavors of a fascinating world. "This is exactly the true luxury," the bartender smiles. "Allowing ourselves the time to exchange our stories. And it is also the deepest meaning of mixology."

Lonely Avenue - Roma - via Luca della Robbia, 18 - 377 092 9792 - lonelyavenue.it

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