A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of receiving a visitor from abroad, a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. I had hosted him a few times in Verona, so there wasn’t much left for me to show him in terms of monuments, museums, typical restaurants and bar crawls. Everything had already been seen and digested. So I tried to introduce him to some new things that are happening around the city and which are particularly popular with the locals in Verona.
My friend was arriving at the airport late in the evening, so I thought I would take him for a drink. For a while I’d heard people talking about this new cocktail bar called Soda Jerk, which was always open until late but it was small and busy to the point that you always needed to book. I thought it was a good opportunity to try it out. It is a charming place. There is no sign outside; the only way you can glance inside is through a little porthole. The door is locked and you need to ring a bell to enter. Once inside, you feel like you are part of a secret society of cocktail enthusiasts. The cocktails on offer there are like little works of art.
The following day, I organised a visit for my friend to the Pasqua winery, just outside Verona. The unique aspect of this place is that, as well as being able to try the wide range of house wines on offer, there is also the possibility – under the supervision of a wine expert – to create your own wine blend. We chose a base with Corvina grape (which is typical of Valpolicella) and then mixed it with a Carbernet and a Merlot. It resulted in a very unique blend. I now keep a bottle with my name on it, with the stopper stamped in sealing wax, for special occasions.
Food chapter: recently in Verona, many places have sprung up offering cuisine that is creative but made with local ingredients. We had time to try out a couple. The first was a very hip Burger joint, close to the Roman theatre, and which is called Buns. Not only are the ingredients local, ranging from meat to cheese (everything comes from farms in Lessinia, the mountains above Verona), but the recipes also take their inspiration from tradition. For example, we tried a hamburger marinated in Amarone. The other place was Tapasotto, a bistrot opened in the centre by Verona’s most renowned chef, Giancarlo Perbellini, which, – in the style of a Spanish tapas bar – offers some of its creations at accessible prices. In particular, I remember a horsemeat tartare and fried baby artichokes.
In the evening, we then went to listen to a bit of live music. When I was a youngster, Verona was full of little venues where, on occasion, gigs would be held. They disappeared over time due to complaints from residents and in favour of other more profitable businesses such as fast-food joints and pizzerias. So, I welcomed as a breath of fresh air, the opening of Cohen (named after Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer who passed away in November 2016), close to the piazza Corrubbio, an area of Verona just before you get to the centre, which is going through a regeneration. You can always hear live music here, especially on the weekend (link to programme): on stage they alternate between folk, country and jazz groups in particular. The best thing is to book a table on the balcony and watch the performances from above, while enjoying a drink. But the venue itself is also worth further exploration, from its wine cellar featuring half-used vintage wines through to its menu which is printed with the covers of iconic records.
My friend really enjoyed his weekend in Verona, which was very different to how he imagined it. And just before leaving, he paid me a big compliment, saying “I really had no idea that there were places like this in Verona”!