Il Bar, il Vero Cuore della Città

February 23, 2015 / Local Interest
Assisi, Umbria

The graceful, stately 1st century BC Roman temple to Minerva reigns in the Assisi town center, surveying town life as it has for centuries. And a few paces away, BarBi, a small cafe under a graceful loggia, is heartbeat of Assisi today.

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Gianluca opens the bar at 6:45 with a thorough clean-up, inside and outside (owner Stefano might have closed as late as 2 a.m.) At about 7:15 today, Lucio, from Pasticceria Sensi, parked his mini-van right outside the door, unloading baking sheets of hot margherita pizze (round ones, triangular slices, square cuts) – a few other pizza types on the side – and flat cardboard boxes of cornetti, veneziane, maritozzi , and the rocciata (strudel) and brustengolo, pastries typical of Assisi. A flat box of panini – just a few – and filled savory torte followed.

Gianluca knows all customers for these pastries
Gianluca knows all customers for these pastries

Two maritozzi, 2 pizza alla cipolla e salvia slices, a full baking sheet of pizza alla margherita, a few panini, 4 pancaciati, 2 mini-pizzette rosse, 2 round pizze al rosmarino, 2 triangular tomato-only pizzas (no mozzarella as on the margherita) and about 7 brustengolo tarts.

How to know what to order and how much?

As first customer Marcello sipped his cappuccino (no order needed: Gianluca knew how hot, how much foam, etc), I chatted with Gianluca, seeking the answers: he proved a veritable culinary almanac of Assisi life.

The pizze alla margherita – cut into squares – awaited elementary school children, arriving before 8 a.m with mamma or nonna for their school snacks. “We thought up the shape so that they could be cut in half, folded and slipped into small paper bags for school.” Middle-school or high school students would nab leftover slices before or after school.

School children choose pizza marg hermits for snacks

Triangles of torte – an Umbrian flatbread filled with either arugula and stracchino cheese or with salami or prosciutto – were for Assisi city employees working late, right across the piazza in the 14th century civic palace.

Torts entices in Assisi

Why just 2 round rosemary pizzas? “For two children – because they like the crunchy crust.” Alongside, two slices (triangular cut – less crunchy crust) of onion/sage pizza for two habitué’ clients. (One would have his at about 11 a.m with orange/carrot/lemon juice!)

Round pizzas for little ones

The two pizzette rosse were for Francesco, realtor, who’d come in mid-morning and have a Coke or fruit juice on the side.

Gianluca knows who wants le pizzeria

A nonna would arrive late morning for 2 of the pancaciati (walnut/cheese bread) for grandchildren. “The other two?” “For whoever gets here first.”

pan cacciatore

One maritozzo would be cut in half for a gentleman coming in about 11 a.m who would accompany it with “cappuccino al latte freddo (ma poco latte)” – no foam – sweetened with four packets of sugar (!). He wishes the pastry cut to avoid crumbs on his hands. The other was for a signora due in at about 5 pm.

Gianluca knows how each client wants the cappuccino

About that time, cyclists would drop in for brustengolo – “medieval power bar” – the Assisi cornflour, apples, walnut/pinenut tart. Their drink? Lots of water.

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Cyclists at 5 pm want brustengolo

As Lucio told me with a wink and mischievous grin as he left the bar – deliveries to BarBi complete – “each piece has its owner. If someone dies, the owner changes.”

Knowing the client demand - only 1 pizza margherita left at 7 pm
Knowing the client demand – only 1 pizza margherita left at 7 pm
Three Veneziane reserved for a customer at BarBi
Chiara calls the bar -a small microcosm of the town-
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Ed’s note – How sad, it appears this bar has recently closed! (Thank you Ann Seamster – Assisi resident – for the news.) It is likely that given Anne Robichaud’s winter Cooking and Lecture Tour to the US, she was unaware of this development regarding the cafe’, having written the note before it shut down.
It will be very interesting to hear which bar all the habitues have moved to for their various snacks. At least we are comforted by the fact that there are no shortage of cafe’ in Assisi or any other Italian town.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

37 Responses to “Il Bar, il Vero Cuore della Città”

  1. Anne,
    Thank you for this post. You make Assisi sound so compelling. We look forward to a visit and stay at your lovely apartment. I only hope there are some leftovers at BarBi!

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  2. Anne & Pino… thanks for this culinary delight. You are correct, the mastery of knowing all your clients like this would not work in our American culture today. Today businesses are content with streams of faceless people mindlessly going through ritual motions spending money. Your article transports me back to my childhood, my Italian heritage where people spent time more than dollars.
    Loved your article and your photos now you have made me hungry.

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  3. Anne,
    Great article. Next time I am in Assisi I will have to stop in and try their pastries.

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  4. Paulette Carnicelli Pidcock

    Anne – I love these pictures as they remind me of my time with you and the people of Assisi during Calendimaggio! See you soon

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  5. Colleen Simpson

    Anne–Grazie mille for a wonderful and evocative Note. The heart and soul of a town is the favorite bar. Although much smaller than Assisi, in Piegaro we have our Bar Luna with Luca, Patrizia and Christina who know everyone’s favorite too, morning or evening!

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  6. Mary Cameron

    My sister and I were in Assissi several years ago. Aye at a less-than-stellar touristy place. Wish we’d had this note beforehand! Makes us both ready to go back!

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  7. Love this article! Who would have guessed that there was so much thought put into each piece of pastry or each client? And the children are getting such great snacks too! Such attention to each person and detail. Fabulous!

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  8. The Italians know how to live. Thank you for sharing this slice of life in Umbria!

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  9. Dorothy Rudzki

    Just picked up your article today after sitting down at my favorite “Bar” in Florence: FIASCHETTRRIA, via de’Serragli 47R. It is a very specialized wine bar with every imaginable Italian drink, some products like olive oil + certain “foreign” liquors. I learned today that there is also a “Menu’ serale,” with antipasto, panini, various snacks and ” Cantuccini e vin santo,” all made with artinisal products from Tuscan/ other regions. There is a small seating area outside, which is always filled with I interesting “characters” from this great Oltrarno neighborhood — especially later in the evening. Signore Luca was interested to know about your website.

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  10. Patrizia Carroll

    Good memories of BarBi… did they ever get a sign put up with the name on it? Made me hungry to see the deliveries.

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  11. Maryanne Maggio Hanisch

    We ate at many little bars such as this all over Sicily and Italy! Every one of them makes visitors feel so welcome!

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  12. Ann Krapf

    Hi Anne, Warren and I will have one of each! We have wonderful memories of sitting with you outside this bar. Beautiful pictures and descriptions as always.

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  13. This is a great spot right in the middle of Assisi that we’ve visited several times thanks to your recommendation, Anne! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Lovley description of a bar that has been closed and vacant for about a month. I know I live in Assisi!

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  15. Catherine F.

    Thank you for such a lovely pictorial and narrative about one of the joys of Assisi. Your deep knowledge of the area, your love of your neighbors and friends, and your joy for life, always come through in your classes and tours. Thank you!!

    Reply
  16. While BarBi is closed, all of the goodies depicted in the photos come from Bar Sensi, located on Corso Mazzini and on Via Fontebella; look for them when your taste buds want a treat.

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  17. Anne Robichaud

    Mille grazie to each for your thoughts…and Anna, believe BarBi does not have a closing day but yes, those goodies from Bar/Pasticceria Sensi in Corso Mazzini..and their first bar (and the bakery where the goodies are made) is in Via Fontebella

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  18. Stephanie W

    Piazza del Comune now gives me one more delicious reason to return to Assisi. This will be a must for me next visit. Makes me want to be a local!

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  19. Stephanie Webb

    Piazza del Comune gives one more delicious reason to linger. This will be a must on my next visit. Makes me want to be a local!

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  20. BarBi closed for good on Jan. 1, all furniture and fixtures have been removed to make way for a new business.

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  21. Frank and Brit

    I have to say that this was one of my favorites of many that you have written. Thanks.

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  22. Anne Robichaud

    Sigh..yes, just heard from an Assisi friend that Assisi landmark BarBi is indeed closed..and thanks, Ann, for letting us know (I left for US on Feb 4th and was not aware). Thanks, GB, for posting this note: now a tribute to a beloved Assisi institution

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  23. Annie – very nice to re-connect with you in San Francisco! We can’t wait to get back to Italy and explore more of Umbria this time …and for sure we will call you when there …too bad to hear about the BarBi closure, but I’m sure the are other bar/caffe’s as characteristic in Assisi ….saluti a Pino, buon viaggio in USA….Mike N

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  24. thought businesses in Italy were always passed on to anther family member but those hrs must have been terrible……Question: if they ordered items for all the regulars, what would happen if a traveler (tourist) came in and ordered one of hte only 2 or 3?

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  25. carol weed lundin

    oh, too bad it closed! i was going to move to assisi just to see how long it would take for the barista to remember what my routine consisted of and thus establish me as a local! annie has a way of making you want to be wherever she is writing about!

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  26. Teresa

    First – my mouth is now watering. Please have the baker send one of everything to my house for taste-testing!
    Second – I just hate hearing that such a neighborhood establishment has closed! Here in the Chicago area, they are usually replaced by some impersonal large chain. (Olive Garden, per esempio) What a loss for the community!

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  27. Anne, I would certainly enjoy an opportunity for you to show me around your neighborhood!

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  28. marianna raccuglia

    Anne, You never fail to entertain-you know everyone! The photos are mouthwatering. Waaaa I want to be there Your fan, Marianna

    Reply

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