The Weekly Mix: Rock n’ Roll n’ Italian Soul at Hotel Locarno

by Emily Bell
Autumn Stein
September 2012

Biography

Restaurant

Somewhere inside Rome's Hotel Locarno, a romantic fin de siècle hideaway favored by artists and expats, there's Francesco Belei, bartender, youth, and lover of rock n' roll. And while tourists pad their way around his city, posting pictures of themselves on the Spanish Steps and throwing coins backwards into the Trevi Fountain, Belei plies his trade behind one of the city's best hotel bars, doing his best to fuse a local boy's love for (cocktail) classics with the kind of modern twists that keep mixology vivace.

Francesco Belei
Francesco Belei

Belei's only been a bartender for a few years, but the last two have been spent at the hotel, "in the heart of Rome, where I had the chance to give space to my imagination." He's not talking about the sacred yawning breadth of the piazza at dawn, but that equally sacred professional freedom, the creative wiggle room that lets any skilled bartender advance his or her palate. And the complex Roma Borgorock cocktail is nothing if not evidence of a maturing, sophisticated palate.

Not that Belei's drinks are all Ferragamo and Fellini. A digestif cocktail, the Roma Borgorock is as much a respectful nod to old Europe—her statues, her grace, her diligently distilling monks—as Belei's liquid ode to that salve of angsty youth, rock n' roll. "The name [of the cocktail] is very personal," says Belei. "[It] reflects my love for this city and my passion for rock music." Searching for Borgorock unearthed the likes of lesser-known Italian Artist HellCircles, as well as the Borgo Rock Café, sometime host to Italian Credence covers. More likely it's a reference to the Borgo Rock Festival that took place about 40 minutes from Hotel Locarno this July (with Belei, we assume, in attendance). Fuse the raw energy of Italian Queens cover band Innuendo with the ancient grandeur of Rome—minus Caligula—and you've got the culture-clash source of Belei's inspiration. (Not to mention a miniature drinkable archetype of what modern mixology does: graft new, tattooed skin onto the bones of perfected classics.)

Roma Borgorock
Roma Borgorock

In this case those classics are threefold: green Chartreuse, 130-herbed opus of Carthusian monks; Zucca Rabarbaro, rhubarb amaro once favored by Italian royalty; and the bitter rosiness of Punt e Mes vermouth—which, bitterness aside, still reminds us of the way the sun sets on the buildings in Rome. Belei fuses these three traditional digestifs into one richly flavorful, balanced sip. The way he describes it, the herbs of the Chartreuse "join the hard flavor of Zucca Rabarbaro and a sweet point of history, vermouth Punt e Mes," resulting in "a cocktail from the Italian soul, with an important French note."

As for the rock note, reading music into a drink is tricky business—rock can be sweet, sour, bitter, fiery (everything, we assume, but tangy). But our money's on the rock element residing in darker end of the flavor spectrum, that "hard flavor" of the Zucca, plus the bitters of Punt e Mes. Bitter Truth Lemon bitters finish the drink—"everything is enhanced [by them]," says Belei—pulling up some of the fresher, greener notes of the Chartreuse like sunshine pulling herbs through bark and mulch at a metal festival. The whole thing is capped off with a lemon peel, carved into something like a mohawk.