Bar Mary

Domenica mattina. Umbertide is silent in the dark before the morning light makes itself known. The days have gotten noticeably shorter. The mornings darker. At 6:30 almost every day of the year, I hear from my bed, the sound of the metal gate on Bar Mary being thrown up to open for the day. Irene (pronounced Ear-RAY-Nay) is the designated opener. Mary, the closer. Saturday night was a raucous party. Sunday morning, is calm. The next thing I hear is the sound of chairs scraping on the stones. Everyday, Irene and Mary, the sister owners, spend an inordinate amount of time repositioning the chairs around the tables. And then the customers come and move them all again. 

Morning on Piazza Matteotti

Once Bar Mary was Bar Patsy. And who knows before that? It is owned by the Catholic Church who inherited it from an old woman who lived in the building. The sisters pay their rent to the church. Our first day in Umbertide, we had driven straight here from Rome after our overnight flight for our house hunting trip, we met Jim, our realtor, who, first thing, took us to Bar Mary for a beer. And it has been our “go to” place ever since.


The first customers arrive shortly after opening. I can hear Irene talking to them. And then a laugh that rings across the Piazza. Both Mary and Irene laugh easily, heartily, and loudly. I affectionately call it a cackle. Esspressi are made, and within seconds have been downed while standing at the bar. Sometimes a customer will linger at the outside tables over a cappuccino and a cornetto. The Sunday bells peal, calling people to mass.

Not long after opening, the old men begin to arrive. Every town in Italy has their cadres of old men, pensioners, kicked out of the house by the wife or coming to the Bar for company if they live alone. They sit, and read the sports page and have arguments about the teams.  Before long the Briscola begins. Also called Scopa, but not here in Umbertide. Here, it is only called Briscola. It is a quirky card game played by Italians. The games can get loud and heated. There were four tables going last evening, each surrounded by the inevitable kibitzers. The men always go home by seven for dinner. The old men never buy a thing from Bar Mary. They just take up table space. And they expect the bar to provide the cards! I wonder at this. What is in it for the Bar? And, as far as I can see, nothing. But it is tradition. And no one will complain.

The passagiata usually begins around five in the afternoon. People begin to stroll through the Piazza. Families with strollers and kids in tow. Grandparents with their grandchildren, showing off the bambini proudly. Then the teenagers and young people come through in packs. All seeing, and being seen. An evening ritual throughout Italy.

Passagiatta, evening stroll.

Not long after the old men go home, the tables will be taken by families, couples and young people. They will order an affogato, or gelato. Maybe a drink or two. An aperol spritz perhaps. The little kids run wild screeching and spinning across the piazza. Chasing the pigeons. The parents pay them no mind. They are perfectly safe. And out of control 🙄.

You won’t see them blond like this one very often. Cute ragazzo.

A day in the life of an Italian bar – Bar Mary. 💕

25 thoughts on “Bar Mary

  1. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hi Toni, I just re-read the post. I had forgotten it. Umbertide is a unique place for sure. It isn’t the most beautiful, but it definitely worms it’s way into your heart. I am looking at other towns now, for a possible move, and none compare with Umbertide. We lucked into this place. I’m glad you liked the little “day in the life” post. Let me know if you want to meet for a caffe or vino.

  2. Toni

    I’m off to Umbertide at the end of May and of course looking at all things from Umbertide. This beautiful and accurate description really brought back to me the magic that is Umbertide. Can barely wait to be there with my coffee in the piazza at one of those tables. Thank you for this article.

  3. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Thanks Tony! It’s actually a kind of phobia with Italians. Wine is never meant to be drunk alone. Only with food. So no matter where you are or what time of day, when you order wine, you’ll get snacks.😏

  4. Tony M

    Beautifully described! I love how the Italians bring snacks to your table with the drinks! Spritz are my favorite!

  5. Maggie

    As we make our plans to land in Umbria in July 2021, reading this puts a big smile on my face. Thanks!

  6. Andrew

    It was in 2000 that I first found it taken over by the sisters. I don’t know if they got it then or 1999; I was going every two years then.

  7. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Thanks Andrew. I thought I remembered seeing the sign saying Patsy. It is always nice to get the actual facts. Do you know when it was taken over by the sisters? Love it and am happy to have it just downstairs! Irene and Mary are sweet.

  8. Andrew

    It is very nice to see your write-up of the day. The previous name was spelled Pazzi, presumably the family name of the one-time owner. That was the name when we moved there in 1971. From around 1988 to 2000 it was owned by Franca and Enzo, the sister and BIL of my best friend from teenage years.

  9. Nancy Hampton Post author

    E Vero! A slice of life in an Italian bar. Whether in a big city or small village the bar is the heart of the neighborhood.

  10. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Thanks Suzanne. Bars are little slices of life here aren’t they? Love them. And my friends who work there 💕

  11. camella5

    Hi Nancy. I haven’t even been back in the USA a week, and I miss Umbertide already. Thank you for the stroll through the piazza. We can’t wait to get back .

  12. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Thank you Mark! It came to me while listening to the early morning sounds. Normal and comforting.

  13. Mark Lane

    Thanks Nancy, I enjoyed this. Anthropologists sometimes do this “day in the life” of a space like a cafe or plaza, to understand a culture better. It’s fun and you did a good job. Thanks

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