Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Out and about in Bologna: Culture under every portico (Part II)

Last week Eugene Karl Montoya Alessandri (BC13/DC14) provided an overview of the classical music scene in Bologna, which has a long and rich cultural history and where at age 14 Mozart studied for several months. Today Eugene shifts his sights to the contemporary scene. Home to some 100,000 students, Bologna has a bustling nightlife that the aesthete Eugene explored while a student at SAIS Bologna.


There are a great many musical happenings around via Rizzoli and Piazza Maggiore throughout the year including Red Bull DJs playing outside of hotel balconies over busy shopping streets.

The RoBOt Festival
You mustn’t miss the RoBOt Festival, a cross-genre collaboration across the city encompassing fine digital art, electronic music and film. It’s early on, so make sure to purchase tickets at Bologna Welcome.

One of the best events was the opening night which had visual artists mixed with DJ sets at Palazzo Re Enzo’s ballroom. The lights and people were truly a sight -- pure anachronism with futuristic visuals against an ancient palace backdrop.

I was lucky to attend another evening at TPO (via Cassarini 17/5) for multiple DJ sets including an indoor wallpaper-clad Russiandisko room and a main stage with local bands. Outside were picnic tables. This and Spazio Indue are as close to the Warschauerstrasse/Schlesisches Tor scene of today's Berlin that Bologna has.


Bologna is not only culturally rich -- with exotic artifacts once owned by Charlemagne in the crypts of its churches, the incomparable Cineteca (via Azzo Gardino 65) or thrilling exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MAMBo, via Don Minzoni 14). It is also a young, vibrant city where Italy doesn’t feel at all demographically tilted towards the aged.

Aperitivi at Giulio’s or elsewhere mark the start of Friday or Saturday night, followed by dinner at one of the city’s venerable osterie or trattorie. Then the crowd splits into the bars or clubs. Ultimately everyone comes back together at the late-night bars or simply on the piazza to watch the sun set and take in the architecture without the masses of year-long tourists. I’ve even seen medieval/baroque dancing in Piazza Maggiore at 4 am -– the tarantella and allemande with 18 couples and a boom box.


Italy's version of the American "happy hour" is alive and well in Bologna. Patrons typically pay an additional euro above drink prices to have full access to delectable buffet-style small plates that can include cured meats and cheeses, couscous and other rices, crudités and canapés.

My favorite aperitivi are served on Via Mascarella next to Taverna Mascarella. The place does not have a name but you literally sit on crate boxes if it’s spring or summer and eat awesome English afternoon tea-style sandwiches.

The favorite drink for most is an Aperol Spritz, which is essentially a shot of Aperol, some prosecco or pignoletto, with a garnish of lemon or orange for flavor.

Places like Swine Bar (via Augusto Righi 24) or Nu Lounge (via de Musei 6) offer New York-style mixology with Mai Tai’s, Old Fashioned’s and Whiskey Sours.

Wherever you go, whether it’s Caffé Zamboni with its mountain of couscous and Italian natives or Café Zanarini (Piazza Galvani 1) with its fashonista jetsetters, you will have a nice start to the weekend or take a break with your favorite SAISer mid-week.


Bologna has two kinds of clubs -- those in the centro storico and those elsewhere. Elsewhere can include anywhere in Emilia Romagna that people will gravitate towards for a good night out.

Favorites in the center that are consistently good are: Kinki (via Zamboni 1), Kindergarten (via A. Calzoni 6), Spazio In Due (vicolo Broglio 1/F), Arteria (vicolo Broglio 1/E), Club BenTiVoglio (Piazza Verdi 2) and Lord Lister (via Zamboni 56A).

If you want warehouses and Berlin-style DJ sets, you must head to Modena, Parma or Padova for Kitsuné and Ed Banger records parties. If that’s too far, you’ve got an impressive lineup at places like LINK (via Fantoni 21), which is a long cab ride away but delivered acts to us like Massive Attack, Moby, Boyz Noize, Benny Benassi, Erol Akan and Jamie Jones. LINK focuses on minimal house and progressive electronica whereas the city center clubs cater more to the Top 40/fusion music crowd. The best information can be obtained on the ads that wallpaper Piazza Verdi. That’s how I found out about a Gorillaz DJ set at Club BenTiVoglio whose front doubles as Scuderia during the day.


Students fairly quickly develop their favorite spots but most  would agree that the late-night owl hangs are few and far between.

L’Infedele (via Gerusalemme 5A) has been in the SAIS family for years so it’s not uncommon to see alumni hobnobbing with current students. The owner really caters to SAISers with late hours, excellent beer offerings and a chill décor. When you walk in and see everyone you know from school, it’s reminiscent of a dining club in 1960s Yale.

Le Stanze (via Borgo di San Pietro 1,) or "church bar", is one of the chicer spots in town and offers great cocktails, an anachronistic but very futuristic décor and awesome homespun music. Erasmus students tend to congregate at the Irish pubs near Piazza Verdi where they tandem exchange evenings and soccer viewing parties.

Learning that occurs outside of the classroom will be accentuated by experiences with others at the opera, over wine at dinner or over cocktails at a nice bar in a refashioned 16th-century church. I encourage you to take advantage of what you have outside of via Belmeloro 11 as it reinforces your friendships, cultural affinity for Italy and enjoyment of this remarkable year in Europe.

Eugene Karl Montoya Alessandri (BC13/DC14)

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