Before I go any further, let me just preface this by saying that Umbria is a food culture, not a drink culture. A group of friends in Umbria is much more likely to organize an evening around a meal—either at home or at a restaurant—than around meeting for drinks. In fact, for roughly the first 15 years I lived here I don’t think I ever met up with friends for a cocktail. At most, we would grab a beer after dinner in the pub…but even that was rare.
Lately a small cocktail culture has begun to take hold in Umbria, for a number of reasons. First, the concept of the aperitivo has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years, probably because the happy hour-esque pairing of drink with food around dinner time is something that the Umbrians can cotton on to without much trouble. Also, with the economy being what it is, it can be cheaper to nurse a drink for an evening of after-dinner conversation than order a meal (However, as part of my hard hitting journalism, I actually found myself consuming an €8 cocktail the other night. €8. Like, the same amount I pay for a pizza margherita and a small beer in my real life.). And, of course, Umbrians–like the rest of the world–like to feel like they are doing the same things hip people in Manhattan are doing, so mixed drinks are hot right now. Though the hip people I know in Manhattan seem to spend an inordinate amount of time ordering-in Vietnamese sandwiches and watching The Wire on their TiVo.
The bottom line is that you are probably not going to get an extraordinary drink in Umbria. This is not the land of the mixologist, but of the porkologist. If you want a memorable salame, you’ve come to the right place. If you want a memorable Manhattan, you should probably go there. This is, however, a land of wonderful views, people watching, and historic cafes…so I’ve given more weight in my choices to the esthetics than to the quality of the alcohol. If you’re choosy about your cocktails, you can always just order a glass of wine. Umbrians do know good wine.
A Drink with a View
Punto di Vista–Viale Indipendenza, 2 Perugia
The bad news is that Perugia has no rooftop bars. The good news is that this hilltop town doesn’t need them. Perch yourself on one of the stools along the parapet which forms the long wall of this outdoor bar, and sip a cocktail while enjoying one of the most spectacular views around. From here you can see almost the entire length of the Umbrian valley, and prettily lit Assisi on the far hill.
Il Trombone–Via Fontanello 1, Spello
The view from this outdoor lounge is so enchanting that you will be tempted to return here for a meal. Don’t do it. The restaurant is—how can I put this?—a crime against Italian cooking. But the adjoining bar is a lovely tree shaded patio with wicker seating tucked into niches and an incredibly soothing view over the green olive-grove covered hills surrounding Spello. I repeat: just drink here.
A Drink with a Different View
Tric Trac–Piazza Duomo, 10 Spoleto
If you are green hill panorama-ed out but would still like some eye candy to accompany your gin and tonic, head to one of the outdoor tables at this elegant bar overlooking Spoleto’s breathtaking duomo. The piazza–closed to traffic–is unusually quiet for an Italian square, so you can sip in peace while gazing at the softly lit facade of one of the most magnificent churches in Umbria.
Nun–Via Eremo delle Carceri, 1A Assisi
This rather unfortunately named brand-new-never-been-opened-still-in-box luxury hotel and spa seems to have gotten everything right…the elegant renovation of the historic ex-convent it now calls home, the breathtaking spa in the excavated Roman ruins under the hotel, and the chic internal courtyard bar open to both guests and the public. This glass, chrome, and dramatically lit space offers a unique view in Assisi…looking up, rather than down, you see the Rocchicciola, or secondary fortress which dominates the skyline.
Hotel Bontadosi–Piazza del Comune, 19 Montefalco
If all humans are actors in this theater of life, the main stages in Italy are doubtless the town piazzas. Settle yourself down in one of this elegant hotel’s inviting outdoor couches, order a drink from the formal yet approachable staff, and watch the show.
Bar 1.2–Piazza Garibaldi, Todi
Right under the portico of the elegant Palazzo del Comune, this new bar is both a wonderful place for people watching and, if you’re lucky, listening to live music. The atmosphere is young and casual, the shows are a mix of acoustic, jazz, and alternative, and the piazza is hopping. A winner.
H2nO–Via Baldeschi, 12/a Perugia
If the sun isn’t cooperating but you are still hankering for a Cuba Libre, search out this quirkily hip bar right in the university district, with its young clientele and a fun vibe. The main floor is built around some restored Roman arches in brick and stone, which makes it an interesting space when the weather outside is frightful.
Il Vincaffè–Via Filippeschi 39 Orvieto
This wine bar is upscale yet friendly, like a neighborhood place in Soho. Great wines and spirits, jovial staff, and some foodie munchies. A perfect place to pop in for an hour on a chilly fall evening to imbibe and rub elbows with the locals.
A special thanks to Alessandra from Discovering Umbria for her Todi and Orvieto help and suggestions!