The eternity we spent awaiting our fake reservation at Da Enzo was all the more galling because we'd actually left a very fun scene behind in order to arrive on time. Our friend / trusty guide D had taken us to Freni e Frizioni (tr. "Brakes and Clutches"*), a bustling aperitivo bar housed in a former auto-body shop on Piazzetta del Politeama in the Trastevere. From 19h to 22h each night the place is thronged - from the long bar to beyond the terrace seating on the adjacent square - with tourists and locals, drawn to the simplistic, clubby cocktails, and a remarkably generous antipasti buffet.
The bar's self-conciously haphazard art-bar décor seems to belie one of the city's more sophisticated commercial operations. The sheer scale of the place indicates this, as does the coherent graphics design package.* Nevertheless the prevailing atmosphere the night we went was that peculiarly Italianate excitement that arises when highly regimented systems are seen falling into utter disarray, every man for himself, all in good fun.
The unusual bar service was the primary motor for this. The way it works at Freni e Frizioni is you line up to approach a cashier or order-taker at the far left of the bar, who takes your drink order and your payment and presents you with a receipt, which you then hand to one of the frantically overworked bartenders towards the right end of the bar.
Getting their attention was a challenge, even for the NC, who in fact is a tall, big-eyed Natasha-looking number who often receives instantaneous preferential service from most red-blooded barmen. It was sheer anarchy back there. We watched as a cocktail server placed a tray stacked with dirty glasses onto a counter area already completely occupied by dozens of dirty glasses, causing a cataclysmic crash all over the work surface.
Drink preparation took about 20 minutes: true efficiency. When at last they arrived, it turns out the cashier had misheard our friend K's request for a diet coke; we had paid instead for a rum & coke. Lining up once again for the cashier to explain the situation seemed byzantine and impossible at the time, we just wrote it off. The NC's Gibson was basically correct, but unremarkable, and limited by humdrum gin (Bombay).
I'm nevertheless inclined to look charitably on the availability of passable martinis; in Paris I've found myself explaining what one is to bartenders at ostensible cocktail bars. Sometimes they have already poured me a straight vermouth.
I spent the drink-delay admiring the antipasti station, where patrons were helping themselves to free plates of what looked like fairly substantial cuisine: pasta fagioli, fresh sliced apples and honey, a ragu of melanzane, etc.
It reminded me of a month I spent taking a language course in Florence long ago, in the middle of which I was pickpocketed of half the money I had in the world, obliging my friend J and I to limit our evening drinking to only those establishments where the purchase of a glass of crap Chianti entitled one to multiple cheeky visits to a wide antipasti buffet. Often he and I would share just the one glass. We soon became unpopular at these establishments.
It was unfortunate that we had no time this trip to abuse the system at Freni e Frizioni. No sooner had we found a choice table outside than we had to down our drinks and be off into the merry leery night.
* Apparently there is a lewd pun in this, also, involving the Italian slang for vagina, 'fregne.' Wonderful country.
** They even had a house brand of wine, which I was not drunk enough to consider testing, even for journalism's sake.
4-6, Via della Politeama
Tel: +39 06 58334210
A short piece on Freni e Frizioni @ VenereTravelBlog
Another puff piece on Freni e Frizioni @ WeHeart
A truly strange, digressive, and politically prescriptive piece on Freni e Frizioni @ TheItinerant