In my last few posts, I’ve mostly focused on where to eat in Bologna. This week, I thought I’d write about where the best bars in Bologna are. I’ve covered my favorite spots and thrown in some bonus tips for people who want to see live music or are into the pub scene.
Bologna has an awesome, gritty vibe and the nightlife there does not disappoint. There’s something for everyone. I’m going to start by focusing on my top three, in order of grittiness.
Luggage and Life’s Guide to Great Bars in Bologna
The general Bologna vibe
When I moved from Padova to Bologna, people asked me what the differences between the two cities were. There are many.
Padova is right wing, Bologna is left. People eat a lot more seafood in Padova then they do in Bologna. Bologna has bigger aperitivi with buffets, in Padova you’re lucky if you get some plain chips and a bowl of peanuts. Bologna is more expensive than Padova.
“What about the vibe?” people wanted to know. The vibes are shockingly different, given the proximity of the two cities. After thinking on it for a while, I came up with the perfect analogy:
Padova is Sandra Dee and Bologna is Rizzo.
Padova is shiny. Padova sits in the front row in class and raises her hand. She dresses preppy. It may take a while, but she grows on you.
Bologna is full of shadows and graffiti. She’s fun and a little bit wild and unpredictable. She wears a leather jacket and red lipstick and has a hickey from Kenickie. Bologna doesn’t come to class, she’s out by the dumpster having a cig.
I’m going to continue with the Grease analogy, partially because it’s making me laugh, and also because in Bologna there are gradients of gritty Grease girls in the form of her different neighborhoods for going out.
Like I said above, the main purpose of this post is drinking, not eating, but I’m going to throw in some tips on where to grab a bite, because it’s my blog and I’ll food if I want to.
Via del Pratello
Grease girl: Rizzo
This was the first neighborhood where I went out in Bologna, so it has a special place in my heart. It’s also really freaking cool and is full of cafés, dive bars, great spots for food, chatty old drunks and street art. You kiiiiind of have to have your septum pierced and at least three tattoos to have any street cred on Via del Pratello, but they might let you in if you scowl enough.
The history of Via del Pratello
Via del Pratello has a fascinating and rich history. According to this article (in Italian), its history has been traced back to the Roman period, when it was considered to be “un luogo di elevata qualità,” which translates to “a high quality place.”
Defensive walls were built around the city center during the Medieval period, and poor little Pratello was left out of those walls. The area became less and less popular until it apparently turned into a field.
In about the year 1000, Via del Pratello was transformed into a street again. It quickly became inhabited by families, students, and according to the article above, some unsavory characters as well. The article calls them “truffatori senza scrupoli,” which (hilariously) translates to “unscrupulous scammers.” I can’t wait to use that phrase in conversation.
In the 1800s, il Pratello was a popular area for people who made a living doing laundry, because there they could wash clothes and linens in the nearby Canale di Reno. In the 1900s, a new generation of unscrupulous scammers appeared, and Pratello became well-known for prostitution and crime. It remained that way for decades. After that, artisans moved in, and Via del Pratello was transformed, yet again, this time into a hub for trades and craftsmen.
During the 1960s, Pratello was the site of many political movements and cultural events. One of the first free radio stations opened there (prior to 1974, with a few exceptions, only the government could open and run radio stations in Italy). There was also a film library similar to the modern one, which is called the Cineteca di Bologna (you can visit it, watch movies, and even take classes there, if you’re interested).
Thanks to these political activists and cultural thinkers, bars and other places to gather started popping up, which pretty much brings us to now. It’s not all bars and cafés: there’s also a cooking school, a juvenile detention center (for the new generation of unscrupulous scammers), and of course, restaurants and street food spots.
Where to go on Via del Pratello
One place I really like that’s also great during the day is Vanilia & Comics. Take in the eclectic furniture and drink a delicious coffee, or enjoy a cocktail at night. They have some outdoor seating, and are open until 1am.
For aperitivo, don’t miss Altotasso, which offers a free buffet, good, cheap prosecco on tap, as well as a variety of draft beers. It’s my favorite spot in the Pratello area. They also have some outdoor seating, and are open until 3:30am.
Want a beer? Check out Mutenye, a well-loved little pub with lots of great brews to offer.
Food tips for Via del Pratello
Hungry? Stop at Trattoria Baraldi if you want a sit down meal. I had a great one there with a friend recently. They have pizza, pasta and meat dishes, and are open until 10:30.
I’ve also heard excellent things about the Roman restaurant at the end of the street. It’s called Quanto Basta. I haven’t been there myself, but the same person that recommended Trattoria della Santa to me recommended Quanto Basta, so I’d be willing to bet that it’s great.
Note: I’d book for either of these places if I were you, especially if it’s a weekend.
On a budget? Head to La Tormentilla for a more street-foodie vibe. The couple that runs La Tormentilla makes it worth a visit, because they’re so lovely. The food is awesome, too. I’ve had delicious sweet and savory crepes there, but the best thing was frico, a kind of cheese that’s served warm and is typical of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Sometimes it has potatoes, or onion, or other ingredients in it, but the one we had came with slices of local salami. It’s melty and stretchy and warm and so, so good.
After dinner drinks? There are about a thousand places to choose from, many of which have outdoor seating. If you want to go full-blown Pratello, there’s a tiny stall crammed between two bars with a homemade sign out front that reads “Il Vino del Contadino” (“the wine of the pesant or farmer”).
Il Contadino himself will disappear into the dark and come back with a plastic cup filled to the brim with wine that tastes like it’s from the wedding at Cana. It was probably taken out of a giant barrel using a mouth syphon, and it costs 1 euro.
Disclosure: it might actually be moonshine.
Disclosure number two: I have never seen this place again after the one time I went there. It could have been a figment of my imagination. More likely, it was closed down for not having a license.
Via del Belvedere
Zona: Ugo Bassi
Grease Girl: Frenchy
I LOVE this spot behind Mercato delle Erbe. It’s a bit less dark and stabby than Via del Pratello, but still has some of that gritty Bologna vibe that permeates the city.
(Also, if I were a Grease girl, I’d be Frenchy, so maybe that’s why I like it so much.)
This little street-cum-piazza is jammed with people every night. The bars fill up, so be sure to head there early.
Where to go on Via del Belvedere
Via del Belvedere is home to one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to, called Senza Nome (No Name). It was started by a deaf couple who wanted to create a place where deaf and hard of hearing people could come to socialize, but also where deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people could mix and hearing people could learn about deaf culture. Judging by the massive crowd there every night, their mission has been accomplished.
The entire staff is deaf or hard of hearing. They have Italian Sign Language guides to help hearing people order, including the alphabet and little tickets that you can give to the bartenders, which also include the sign for the item you want to order. You can also write it down. I’ve been several times, and every bartender I’ve ordered from has been able to read lips.
Places like Senza Nome are so important. The world is mostly built for certain kinds of people, and that’s not fair. In the same way that every kid should have a superhero or a princess that looks like them, everyone should have a place where they can go to socialize and feel comfortable, regardless of their abilities.
Next to Senza Nome is another favorite called Pastis. The bartender is a riot. One time when I went in after a stretch of going there, well, let’s just say a few times (*cough*in a row*cough*) he threw the keys at me and told me the bar was mine for the night. He’s super friendly, makes awesome cocktails, and will tell you how he came up with each one.
On a recent night there, I had one of his creations, which was limoncello, prosecco, and fresh basil. It was perfect for a hot night.
I will also say that Pastis has the best prosecco pour I’ve ever seen in Italy, and possibly the world. See for yourself below.
If you’re hungry, pop down to 051 on the corner for some tigelle and a tagliere, or head into Mercato delle Erbe and grab something at the food court.
Piazza Santo Stefano
Zona: Santo Stefano
Grease girl: Sandy
The most sophisticated of my favorite places to go out in Bologna is Piazza Santo Stefano, named for the church that lies at one end. The bars here are a little more hip, trendy, and expensive, so if you’re up for a bit of class, this is the spot.
Other spots with great bars in Bologna
If you like live music
Via Mascarella is loaded with bars that have open mike nights and jazz music. Moustache has a great menu and a great vibe. I also saw a jazz trio at Cantina Bentivoglio one night, which is more formal than a lot of the other places on the street. Bravo Café is a super popular live music venue. Check out the list of performers and book in advance. I haven’t been for a show, but it looks like a great place for one.
If you like language exchanges, pub quizzes, watching sports, and theme parties
Ahh, the university bars! There are about a zillion in Bologna. I’ll admit I haven’t been to many, but there are a bunch of them in the Via Zamboni area. If you like any of the things mentioned above, check out the Cluricaune Irish Pub, or Empire a few doors down.
So there you have my list of great bars in Bologna! Questions? Thoughts? Share them in the comments!
More Bologna posts and guides
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