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A drink from The Court at Rome’s Palazzo Manfredi hotel.
A MILLENNIUM BEFORE the rest of the world, Italians discovered that God, food, and family were the keys to a good life. Ancient traditions evolve with time, but drink will never replace the holy trinity. Instead, alcohol serves to enhance the taste of food, and so the country’s spirits can be categorized according to when they are served — before, during, or after meals. After working in New York City and Tokyo, The Court’s Matteo Zed sums up Rome’s cocktail culture this way: “The same culture we have for food in America, people have for drinks.” Dinners begin with a dry, bitter aperitivo, like Aperol or Campari, to stimulate the appetite, and end with a richer, bittersweet digestivo like amaro. Amaro is Zed’s expertise, and he’s built bars dedicated to the spirit in both Brooklyn and Rome.
His signature drink at The Court is the Mango Italiano, a cocktail with rum, fruit, and tea — it doesn’t fit into any of the traditional categories.
His signature drink at The Court is the Mango Italiano, a cocktail with rum, fruit, and tea — it doesn’t fit into any of the traditional categories. Zed says it was one of the bar’s most requested cocktails this past summer, when government restrictions interrupted the usual rhythms of Rome. The Court closed at 6 p.m., well before the locals began their pre-dinner rituals. Incredibly, Zed says, customers still filled the bar, happy to get out of their usual routines for a good drink — while braving Rome’s notorious summer heat. Zed introduced a new summer menu featuring tea and flowers, influenced by Roman bartender Peter Dorelli. Dorelli was the longtime head barman at the American Bar at the Savoy in London, where he brought some much-needed fun and joy to British bartending. “Savoy is a temple, a very classic cocktail bar,” Zed says. “And the guy was very crazy! He was, but he still is very crazy and creative.”
Zed didn’t plan to stay in Rome when he returned in 2019. He had managed the bar at the chic Fifth Avenue Armani Ristorante in New York for the previous five years, when he was asked to consult on a new bar, and if the location would be adequate. The location turned out to be the courtyard of the 5-star Palazzo Manfredi hotel, which enjoyed unobstructed, spectacular views of the Colosseum. “When I saw the space I said, ‘Wow, it’s possible. Of course it’s possible.’” Returning to the U.S. in 2020 was not easy, so instead Zed was afforded time to tackle other projects. He opened two bars, won a few awards, and wrote “The Big Book of Amaro,” a comprehensive guide to the Italian liqueur. The author’s passion for Amaro shines through his fascinating story of bitter medicines and elixirs, Arab alchemists and medieval physicians, and royal courts and secretive monasteries. Now visitors come to see Zed as well as the Colosseum. He takes his newfound fame with a Dorelli-like sense of humor: “They say ‘Man, in America, you are a legend.’ So, for me, it’s funny, because I wasn’t a legend before. Now, I’m a legend because I left!”
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.
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