On my last night in Italy, before flying back to the States at an ungodly hour the following morning, my friends argued on where to give me a proper sendoff. Silvia, a woman I have known for over 50 years who is, inarguably, the life of whatever party she chooses to inhabit, suggested Osteria del Sole. We were all rather perplexed.
Osteria del Sole, tucked away in a tiny street in the maze of Bologna’s vibrant city center, is a historic watering hole – from the 1400s historic. Bologna is knows for its osterie, that can be found pretty much everywhere: places where one can drink very late into the wee hours of the morning, eat more or less elaborate fare and generally meet friends and sit for hours. During my college years, osterie crawls were de rigueur and everybody would develop their favorites, where, as a group, people would meet, catch up and argue about everything, from politics to sports to love affairs.
Food was never the big draw: cheap wine was. Then English pubs came along and, to keep apace, osterie began serving food that went beyond cold cuts, bread and cheese. Traditionally, through the centuries, food wasn’t even an option: osterie were for drinking.
Osteria del Sole is the only one, to my knowledge, that has retained such peculiarity. So why on earth was Silvia hellbent on taking us there? A place where they will not even serve you a glass of water? Not even if you ask nicely (maybe, from the tap, if you ask very nicely)? She promised to take care of everything, and we went along with it.
The place is old-fashioned, with photos and drawings packing the walls, a counter where wine by the glass or bottle can be purchased, and long tables with mismatched chairs that occupy most of the space which is invariably crammed with college students, journalists, university professors: a veritable mix and match of citizenry. And no tourists. Those are drawn by the pretty places that dot the entire city center, with tables spilling into the streets, and heat lamps. Outside Sole, you will only find smokers with one foot inside to temper the cold.
But the owners of Il Sole are not stupid – if people eat, they will drink more, so they allow you to bring your own food. Which is exactly what Silvia did. She arrived with a hamper containing a bright pink tablecloth, paper plates and napkins and a bounty of food her boyfriend had brought back from Pienza the day before: assorted cheeses aged under ash or vine leaves; wild boar salami; sausage; kamut bread; prosciutto and mortadella; sundried tomato pesto; grissini and whatever else. It was a feast. And so much fun. While other tables had food, ours was everybody’s envy.
It was actually so much fun, because so different from your usual restaurant/trattoria/pizzeria, that it got me thinking why no one else is doing it. If the profit margin of a restaurant hinges on the sale of alcohol, why not outsource the food part to the customers? Not to mention it is a brilliant and ant-free alternative to your typical picnic. You know, for the urban types who wouldn’t dream of sitting on a blanket on the grass. I bet Brooklyn would be just the ripe place for such a concept.
Osteria del Sole
Via dei Ranocchi 1/d