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There is no city with better backdrops for a drink. You can sip a cocktail overlooking the Roman Forum or savour Campari watching the light bounce off baroque fountains. Often the best way to enjoy nightlife in Rome is to wander from restaurant to bar; getting happily lost down picturesque cobbled streets and being awestruck by ancient splendour.

Rome, like most cities, is a collection of districts, all with their particular character. In cutting-edge club terms, the city's no Berlin or London, but there is still plenty of after-dark fun to be had. Most people dress up to go out - the bella figura (looking good) is important. The majority of locals spend evenings looking beautiful, checking each other out, partaking of the odd ice cream, and not getting drunk - that would be most unseemly. However, this is changing and certain areas - particularly those popular with a younger crowd - can get rowdy with tipsy teens (for example, around Campo de'Fiori and parts of Trastevere).

And smart is not the only way to go. Rome's flip side is a surprising alternative underbelly, centred on left-wing centri sociali (organised squats), grungy squatter arts centres that often have live music, and where dressed-down is the look. Up-for-it Romans tend to eat late, then drink at bars before heading off to a club at around 0100 local time. It can be difficult to get around as some places are far-flung - despite drink-and-drive rules, many locals drive, hence the alarming road-accident statistics.

For a drink you can choose from myriad charming bars, enoteche (wine bars) and pubs. Bars range from spit-and-sawdust (no décor but the beer is cheap) to designer places for the exquisitely dressed. The enoteca was where the old boys from the neighbourhood used to drink rough local wine poured straight from the barrel. Times have changed: nowadays they tend to be sophisticated, if still atmospheric, places offering Italian and international vintages, delicious cheeses and cold cuts. Pubs are based on the Irish or British model and look almost like the real thing, but populated with better-groomed people.

Some of the more popular nightclubs have a whimsical door policy, and men will often find themselves turned away. At many clubs both men and women will have to dress up to get in or fit in. Often admission is free, but drinks are expensive. Cocktails can be expensive, but you can drink much more cheaply in the studenty clubs of San Lorenzo, Pigneto and the centri sociali.

For listings check Trovaroma (an insert in daily newspaper La Repubblica) on Thursday and Roma C'è on Wednesday, both of which have a short English section, or the English-language Wanted in Rome magazine, published every second Wednesday. Also, in bars and cafés look out for the free nightlife listings in monthly Zero.

Friends in Rome is a social organisation that offers a chance to mingle with an international crowd - a mix of expats, locals and out-of-towners - and find out about the local social scene. The friendly organisers arrange regular social events, including aperitivi evenings and film showings.

© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘An evening out in Rome’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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