People Watching in Bologna

Martin Yarnit shares his favourite spots for enjoying a light aperitivo in Bologna – from top-end cafés to the humble bars that garner the most attention from locals in the know…

*046Italians everywhere enjoy a drink and a snack before dinner, maybe as a break during the early evening passeggiata. But the Bolognese are particularly keen on the practice. Even during the depths of the winter, when a biting wind sweeps in from the plain of the River Po, people can be seen huddled around the doors of bars all over the city, a chalice or champagne glass of Prosecco in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
As they like to sit down to dinner in the summer about 9pm, aperitivo time is about 7pm onwards. What to drink? A beer, a cocktail, a glass of wine or maybe a spritz-Campari or spritz-Aperol. Campari is the red and Aperol the amber bitter that, together with a good splash of sparkling white wine, creates the aperitivo of choice for many. Otherwise, it might be spumante, possibly a Prosecco, or a local pignoletto like Montecino’s San Vito or Gaggioli’s pignoletto frizzante. A spumante is a sparkling wine, whereas frizzante is the sparkling version of pignoletto, a native wine found in the Bolognese hills.
Equally important are the accompaniments. In recent years, there has been a stuzzicati boom. This, the Italian equivalent of tapas, is the way that bars compete for trade. In some places you will find long tables groaning under the weight of an imposing buffet consisting of tiny pizzas and sausage rolls, ham and cheese flavoured focaccie, deep fried vegetables, salami and crisps. But choose carefully to avoid eating loads of stodgy carbohydrates.*canon 21 june 2011 273
The drawback of the aperitivo scene, it has to be said, is that you end up paying for the food in the price of the drink, whether or not you want the food. In the end the choice is to frequent bars that offer a good stuzzicati deal or those that simply provide wine and other drinks. So where shall we go tonight? Three main considerations lie behind my recommendations: the surroundings, the clientele and the food.
The three places featured below, in their very different ways, exemplify what the locals call bolognesita – the essence of being Bolognese. This is what sets the locals apart from the Florentines or the Romans. It is hard to pin down, but one element may be the special pleasure the Bolognese take in eating and drinking together.

Zanarini, Piazza Galvani
Let’s start with somewhere select or ‘snob’ as they say in Bologna: Zanarini because it’s a lovely place in its own right, with ample space inside, by the bar, upstairs where the buffet is laid out, and outside in the square. This is a place where many people go to see and be seen, and to graze on food carefully prepared and presented. Zanarini, with its courtly service and splendid displays of canapés, ca*family friends 415kes and chocolates, is less a bar than a grand institution.
Michele Doria seems awestruck to find himself the manager of this establishment. Ask anybody in Bologna which is the city’s premier meeting place and café and they are most likely to say Zanarini.
After a lifetime in the business, Michele now runs one of Bologna’s most important and long-standing institutions. Since 1928, Bolognese people have come here to mingle and socialise, so maintaining the prestige and standing of Zanarini is no small matter.
All day long the square in front of the café and the bar inside are busy with (usually) well-dressed and well-turned out locals. The
day begins with breakfast, a big Sunday morning tradition in Bologna, then moves through
a veloce lunch, afternoon tea and then the café gears up for the aperitivo. But no dinner, because the café doesn’t have a licence for hot food.
Aperitivo time is the high point of the day at Zanarini. The free buffet – which comes as your automatic right with a drink – is that much more lavish than anywhere else and the service that much more courteous. We paid €8 each for a share of a bottle of Prosecco and more snacks than were wise just before dinner. Michele says that a lot of people manage to skip dinner altogether and just snack away at Zanarini.

Mambo, Via Don Minzoni Propping up the bar at Osteria del Sole
You may prefer somewhere less grand but with equally interesting clientele and a good buffet. The bar at MAMBo, the modern art museum, attracts the young and the artistic intelligentsia. Sometimes at the weekend there will be a DJ playing the classics of the last fifty years.
(Has rock and roll really been going that long?) The drinks are standard but the buffet is more like a vegetarian feast with lots of wholesome salads. You can stand at the dimly lit bar, sit inside or under the portico outside. Depending on the season, you can stay warm and dry or bask in the evening sun.

ZanariniOsteria del Sole Vicolo Ranocchi
If you object to paying the price for a buffet you don’t want, then Osteria del Sole is the answer. It’s easier to find in the evening – you can spot it by the huddle of people, glass in hand, spilling out into tiny Vicolo Ranocchi. Otherwise, it is easily missed; there is no sign outside the scruffy entrance, making it a place for those in the know.
If anything, the interior is even less prepossessing. But that really doesn’t matter. The attraction is that this is a genuine osteria, a (usually rough and ready) place that you go to drink and chat, a bit like a pub. Here you can rub shoulders with a wide cross section of Bolognese society, including writers, politicians, academics and talkers. Many osterie do provide food these days, but not here. Not even a bag of crisps. Instead the deal is that you bring your own – an inversion of the usual bring your own theme. And since Osteria del Sole is right in the middle of the Quadrilatero, the market shopping streets, you can assemble lunch or a couple of stuzzicati from the best food shops in town.
You eat and drink at long friendly tables, making room for newcomers and clearing up as you go. A wide variety of wines are sold by the glass or the bottle, or you can buy beer if you prefer. They will provide serving boards for bread and salami.

*Foodlovers Bologna cover

More Information
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