Thursday, October 20, 2005

Rome – Friday Night at Harry’s Bar

Ed walked into the office, “David, how much longer do you have? It’s Friday night!”

“I am finishing up now, go ahead and I will meet you there,” I responded, looking up from the ton of papers piled on my desk. Raffaella is still meeting with the retail group preparing the new price lists and going over the monthly revenues. The investors in town, end of month financials to go over, launch of the new bundled services for the Internet group next week, there just are not enough hours in the day!

Ed had been helping us for the last six months and he knew the game, he had run several multinationals over the years. There is always something else to do, something urgent, but at a certain point you have to stop, relax and get away from the problems otherwise, you crash and burn and then you can’t get anything done. He had introduced us to one of his haunts from a previous life, Harry’s Bar. Now, every Friday night, when we were in Rome, we stop, go have drinks, listen to some music and then off to dinner.

I close the office, get Raffaella and we are off! Via Veneto is beautiful in the evening. The buildings are well taken care of and the streets are bright as day. The numerous restaurants still have people dining both inside and on their front patios. As we pass the US Embassy and hotel Excelsior we finally finish our last discussions regarding the company’s operations. At the top of the hill on the left is Harry’s. Rino is outside greeting clients, not that there is a line outside waiting to get in, but that is part of the tradition of Harry’s Bar. At Harry’s, you are a VIP. Rino and Piero Lepore bought the American Bar Restaurant about 20 years ago and have brought it back to its original glory.

Harry’s Bar is part of the history of Italy. In the 60’s Italy was experiencing tremendous growth. The post WWII government was finally starting to click and the economy was booming. The rich and famous from Italy’s CineCitta’ movie industry lived high and were very visible. These were the days of Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Marcello Mastroianni. Harry’s was one of the main attractions. Today this is still one of the favorite spots to relax, eat, drink and chat for Rome’s VIP scene.

Rino takes our overcoats as we enter the bar area. Ed is sitting at the end of the bar back in the corner drinking his Vodka Martini, without the Vermouth. The lights are dimmed but not dark. The bar is finished in heavy dark wood and the chairs and couches are padded and comfortable.

” Mr. Anderson, the usual?”

Ah the usual, Johnny Walker Blue, no ice and a glass of ice cold water on the side. Ed joins us and Raffaella orders her Prosecco. Various appetizers arrive and I realize that the knot in my stomach is not tension, we haven’t eaten today, oh man am I hungry!

By this time the live music has started, usually some beautiful 25-30 year old, with a powerful voice, wearing a hot mini-skirt sitting on a high stool by the electric piano. The selection of music is easy listening pop with an occasional Italian folksong mixed in. As I enjoy the soft smooth flavor of my Johnny Walker, Anna stops by. “Professoressa!!!,” Ed exclaims. Anna is the head of the dining area. Professional, dressed in a black suit, long black hair neatly woven into a tight thread. Anna has all of the characteristics of a southern Italian, olive skin and pleasant features. Anna told us some time ago that she was taking classes to get her degree so she became “Professoressa”. Tonight the choice for dinner is easy; we stay here. Harry’s Bar has an excellent restaurant. It can seat about 50 people.

We move toward the restaurant. From our position in the bar we pass through the lounge area where Rino and Piero are chatting with customers. You can imagine Sophia Loren chatting in the corner with Carlo Ponti as they plan her young career. The arched ceilings, heavy greek and roman molding, plush embroidered cloth couches and chairs, gold trim, marble columns, and plush carpet are inviting and relaxing.

As you arrive at the back corner of the lounge, separated from the primary seating area by half-walls and plants, another room opens up. Murals create the impression of space and light. Most of the tables for more than two people are positioned in a way to create an open yet intimate setting. Fine Silver, gold rimmed porcelain dishes, elegant crystal adorn the several tablecloths layered over the tables.

“Mr. Anderson, your table is ready”, Anna informed us as we arrived in the dining area.

My table, a round table for 6 strategically situated in a nook in the back of the dining area, was also the favorite spot for Francesco Cossiga, ex-president of Italy, the US Ambassador of the moment, Giancarlo Giannini and other high profile VIPs. I am definitely not important as these people, but just the same Anna and her group make us feel like we are the most important people on the face of the earth.

Although there are menus on the table we know that we will not need them. Anna asks what wine we would like for dinner. Harry’s has a great selection of wines, from local wines to the super Tuscanies and very fine wines that you may not have heard of and are still reasonably priced. The conversation heats as we discuss Villa Gemma, Sassicaia, Tignanello, Spers, Pergole Torte. We order Guado al Tasso. Although we discussed at length a variety of wines before selecting, I had already made up my mind. I love chocolate! Guado al Tasso is a complex wine with significant body and a taste of chocolate and coffee linger in your mouth.

We set the menus aside.

Anna asks, “What can we prepare for you?”

We respond in union, “What’s good?”

Although ordering from the menu is most appropriate in restaurants that serve large numbers of people, in the smaller restaurants where service is king the best choice is to ask your waiter for a suggestion. The staff takes pride in its ability to understand the tastes of the client, knowledge of the restaurant’s products and the wines that have been selected. For Raffaella and Ed it is a Salmon steak and for myself, la Carbonara. Rarely will order both a first and second course and tonight I want pasta.

Carbonara is traditional Roman plate. The sauce is made with fried pancetta, butter, parsley, raw eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheese, and pepper, lots of pepper. Once the pasta is cooked and drained the raw egg sauce is poured into the pot with the hot pasta that partially cooks the eggs and the resulting sauce is creamy and very well distributed on the pasta. Usually you will not find Carbonara in an upscale restaurant but that is the advantage of not ordering from the menu’.

The music is playing a little louder and you can tell that things are getting lively in the lounge but we are happy just where we are. Giving the dining room staff a hard time about “this or that” as they remain perfectly serious. We talk about Sorrento, Ed’s father is from Sorrento, and Naples, my favorite weekend spot. One of the waitresses is from the Vomero, a hill at the outskirts of Naples and is amazed that we like the area so much.

As Ed pulls out a montecristo #5, I ask for dessert. Harry’s has some marvelous desserts but I love chocolate and there is not a true chocolate lover’s dessert. Anna trips off to the kitchen brings some grappa and asks me if she can have the chef prepare something special. Of course I respond, “Great!!!” Ten minutes later Anna returns with a dessert that brought back the hunger even though I had consumed appetizers, drinks, wine, pasta and grappa.

Sweet puff pastry smothered with a chocolate mousse cream, another puff pastry, chocolate mousse, repeated for 3 layers and topped of with shaved dark chocolate and powdered sugar. Fortunately I still had half a glass of my wine. Slowly I worked on this masterpiece, one bite, one sip of wine and a pause until I had cleaned the plate. Had I been at home I most likely would have licked the plate clean.

We are now the only ones left in the dining area and the other tables are clean. We order coffee and ask our three servers to have coffee with us. We chat for another half hour and it is time to go home but we have had an enjoyable evening in a magical place with wonderful people. You do not have to be a VIP to be treated like one and Harry’s Bar is a must destination for a vacation in Rome because they know how to do just that.


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