Jerry Thomas Speakeasy Rome – Parlate piano, ragazzi!
Rome, the Eternal City, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors with its ancient and beautiful attractions. The atmosphere is laid-back, the weather is mainly nice, and apart from that, Number 33 on the World’s 50 Best Bar list is hidden in one of the small enchanting back alleys.
I was very curious about Italian bars and drinks and decided to spend a couple of nights in Rome with a friend. We often do city trips together and while she is responsible for the daytime programme, I take care of the evenings. Tonight, it was time for The Jerry Thomas Project and I quickly explained that he was a famous American bartender in the late 19th century. He is considered to be the father of Mixology. In 1862 he published his drink recipe book “How To Mix Drinks or A Bon Vivant’s Companion“ which is probably the most famous bartenders’ cocktail book of all time. Jerry Thomas established the image of the bartender as a professional. He earned more than the Vice President of the United States. My company’s comment on this background story was: “That’s a big name for a bar!” I would say, it is a huge tribute to this man.
It is a speakeasy bar and the procedure to get in is quite challenging. Reservations must be made exclusively by telephone and to access you must know the password. The secret word is hidden on the bar’s website. It is the answer to a question that changes on a regular basis. At the moment it is: What is the most known drink by Trader Vic? Another thing is that Jerry Thomas is a private club and membership is required, that means you have to fill in a membership card and pay 5 Euros. This is due to the fact that an alcohol licence in the centre of Rome is incredibly expensive and also the taxes are very high. If I think about the tourist tax of three to seven Euros per day depending on the accommodation it is a good idea to have a private club.
I made it easy for myself and a dear bartender friend made the reservation for me. After ringing the bell of Jerry Thomas, by the way Harry Johnson also lives in this building, we entered a small room which seemed to be bathed in candlelight. The subdued lighting provides an intimate atmosphere, supported by the heavy Chesterfield sofas and the leather pouffes. I would estimate thirty seats. The bar hosts only a few places, so we were seated on pouffes at one of the low tables.
A big bottle of water and the menu came immediately. You feel a bit like you are in a huge living room in the prohibition style of 20s New York. There is nice wallpaper, some carpet and innumerable bottles stored in showcases and behind the bar. There must be around a thousand, and some of them are pretty rare. There is rum and also a lot of mezcal. They love mezcal and have lately opened the Agaveria “La Punta” in Travestere. Leonardo, one of the owners, told me about this new bar and made a reservation for us for the next day.
Jerry Thomas has its own gin and vermouth. Vermouth del Professore is produced as a result of a collaboration between the Quaglia distillery and the Jerry Thomas Project and is a homage to “The Professor”, Jerry Thomas. They have two very limited editions. One is a vermouth aged in a whisky cask for over 18 months. We had a glass. It was delicious: an aromatic and elegant flavour which was so complex. A smoky bacon flavour gave the dominating character and I couldn’t stop sipping and sipping, and also finished the glass of my company who is a vegetarian by the way. Maybe the edition with the Jamaican cask finish would have suited her better.
While our ears were being treated well with the background jazz music, I browsed through the menu. I am a big fan of well organised menus. You will find clear categories of gin cocktails, rum cocktails, agave cocktails, scotch-bourbon-rye, vermouth & bitter and so on. We started off with some gin based cocktails. I like the soapy perfume taste of an Aviation, and opted for the Improved Aviation. The improvement is made by using London Dry Gin, homemade lavender syrup, creme de violette, lemon sugar and some rosehip, hibiscus bitters. Floral and refreshing as expected. My company’s first drink of choice was the Oriental Eyes, served in a tall mug and decorated with some seaweed and a folded origami ship, the eyes drink first. A refreshing concoction with hints of seaweed and a present green tea and matcha flavour. We continued with classical drinks one can expect from a bar with that name. The Martinez and El Presidente were perfectly executed and elegantly balanced. I saved the Agave section for the next day at the Agaveria and finished the night with a tiny Fortaleza cocktail.
This place opened in 2010 and will hopefully open for another seven years. I threw a coin from my right hand over my left shoulder into the Trevi fountain to ensure that I will return to Rome in the future. Thank you for this wonderful adventure.