The Italian bar, sometimes called a caffe‘, is the center of social life and Italians may visit their local bar several times in the morning for coffee and breakfast, and again in the early evening for an aperitivo or cocktail before dinner.
At the bar you’ll find coffee, pastries, sandwiches (panini), and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Some bars also serve small meals at lunch, finger food with appertivi before lunch or dinner, or gelato. Bars also have newspapers for customers to read. Many bars close before the end of dinner time so if you want an after dinner drink, digestivo, it’s best to order it at the restaurant after your meal.
Important note: In bars in larger cities and tourist centers, it will cost more to sit at a table (sometimes even more if the table is outside) than it will to stand at the bar. In especially popular main squares such as Piazza San Marco in Venice, table service can be very expensive. Prices are posted–al banco meaning the price for consuming a beverage at the bar, or al tavolo, meaning the price at the table. If you want to linger for awhile, pay for the service and enjoy the table but if you just want a quick drink, stand at the bar. Bars in smaller places don’t always charge for table service.
Larger bars, especially in cities, usually have a cash register where you need to pay before ordering but in smaller places you won’t pay until you’re ready to leave. You can also buy bottled water at a bar but it’s usually much cheaper to buy it in a grocery store (alimentari or supermercato).
Tip: As you wander around, take a look inside historic bars and coffee houses, often beautifully decorated. Top cities with a big coffee culture and several historic caffes are Turin in Piedmont and Trieste in the northeast.