Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, which dates from medieval times, is a web of ancient cobbled streets teeming with trattorias, pizzerias and bars. A lively street scene and animated nightlife draw both locals and tourists to the west bank of the Tiber River for an evening of entertainment. In the heart of Trastevere, you’ll find Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, the city’s most famous beer bar and the first to feature independent breweries exclusively.
Despite its understated exterior, the pub isn’t hard to locate. Make your way to the street named Via Benedetta. When you encounter a cluster of people drinking beer and socializing in front of a graffiti-strewn building with a decaying facade, you’ve arrived.
The entry is flanked by a collection of stickers from breweries around the world and is topped by a simple sign displaying the name Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà. The name translates loosely to “What did you come here for?” and is a soccer chant sung by the fanatic fans of Rome’s Lazio soccer team to taunt their opponents, especially during lopsided matches. In addition to being a first-rate beer bar, the pub is also a local’s soccer bar, and has been throughout its 16-year existence. Macchè, as it’s called locally, can take credit for introducing many a Lazio fan, and numerous other residents of Rome, to the joys of great beer.
There’s nothing fancy about the place. You enter into a tiny taproom with counter seating on one side and a small bar on the other. Together, the room seats 10 patrons. Behind the bar sits a row of a dozen copper-colored beer towers, each sporting a hand-written card with information about the beer being dispensed. A modest selection of bottled beers is on display in a refrigerated case mounted on the wall. During my visits, most of the bottles featured wild ales from Belgium and the United States. The ever-changing draft list is posted on a chalkboard on the opposite wall.
Beyond the bar area is a second compact space with table seating that might accommodate 30 people, assuming they’re not averse to close encounters of the beer kind. Televisions in each room broadcast soccer matches without sound while rock music plays in the background. The diminutive size of the two rooms is conducive to befriending fellow beer-lovers from around the world. The locals seem to prefer drinking on the street in front of the pub, which is quite acceptable in Rome.
There’s a downstairs room with a different vibe. Upholstered chairs and cubby-like spaces evoke a more lounge-like feel, suitable for quiet conversation. While the room was seldom used during my visits, it’s here that Lazio fans gather on game days to cheer on their beloved team, according to Macchè’s founder, Manuele Colonna, a Lazio supporter and passionate beer fan who opened the pub in 2001.
Colonna is a well-known figure within Italy’s tight-knit community of independent beer-makers. In addition to showcasing many small Italian breweries at Macchè, Colonna travels throughout Europe in search of beers to serve at the pub. When I ask Colonna how he selects beers, he barely mentions styles. Rather, he stresses the importance of a brewery’s philosophy and of a brewer’s heart and soul. “I like to recognize the brewer’s personality in the beer that I drink,” he explains.
The draft menu lists 15 beers and a cider. Italian breweries are well-represented. Beers from small German and Belgian breweries appear frequently. Styles cover a broad spectrum of German, Belgian, British and American ales and lagers. It’s likely that most patrons, even seasoned beer travelers, will be unfamiliar with many of the featured breweries. One exception is the well-known Cantillon Brewery, whose beers are often available on draft. Colonna has a close relationship with the owners of the revered Belgian Lambic producer.
Servers at Macchè are friendly to a fault and knowledgeable about the beers they serve.
“We like to tell our customers a story behind the beer they are drinking,” Colonna tells me over a glass of kellerbier procured from an obscure Franconian brewery. “That’s really important for us.”