By LAUREN HEALY
The typical travel day for a tourist in Rome includes a Papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, a tour of the Coliseum and a cup of gelato or two. But for Steelers Nation, there is an additional stop: La Botticella, a pub, that has become the official hangout for Steelers fans visiting the Eternal City.
Giovanni Poggi, 43, the owner and head honcho of the joint, never imagined his bar turning into a Pittsburgh shrine.
Poggi opened La Botticella, formerly a wine merchant’s shop in a narrow cobblestone alley just off Piazza Navona, in his early 20s. The name La Botticella, or Little Barrel, came to Poggi when he first unlocked the doors.
“I didn’t have any tables starting off, so I put out a bunch of barrels,” says Poggi. Some kids started calling it ‘the little barrel’ and the rest was history.
Poggi, born in Rome, emigrated to Canada with his family when he was four. They moved back to Rome when he was 14, and he’s been here ever since. He developed his love for the Steelers when he was a child in Canada. Their winning streak in the 70’s certainly helped.
Visitors at the cozy pub are greeted by a three-foot statue of Jesus sporting a Steelers helmet. A Steelers Country sign hangs on the back wall, along with other Pittsburgh paraphernalia: Terrible Towels, Sidney Crosby and Troy Polamalu jerseys and dozens of Western Pennsylvanian college pennants.
Poggi opened La Botticella as a regular pub without a particular identity. The Steeler theme developed quite spontaneously over the past ten years as study-abroad students from Penn State and Duquesne elected the pub as their home away from home. Poggi started to play Penn State football games, along with Steeler games on Sunday.
“Fans started pouring in,” said Poggi. “We usually get at least 30 people or more on game days.”
Former study-abroad student and Pittsburgh native Jason Bertocchi, program manager at Best Buddy’s Italia, has lived and worked in Rome for the past two years. He can remember watching the games in 2007 when he studied abroad at John Cabot University, and seven years later he still makes it to just about every Sunday game.
“It’s not like watching it with my best friends at home, but being here with a bunch of Pittsburgh fans is a close second,” said Bertocchi.
Within the past few years, word about the black and gold pub has spread through the Pittsburgh area. Just about every Pittsburgh-born tourist in Rome has stopped by to check it out.
Dan Higgins visited the bar last month with his wife and another couple from the Peters Township Area. They heard about the bar from other Pittsburghers who visited between tourist stops on their vacation in the Eternal city.
“We went on Saturday to watch the Penn State game, and just had to come back on Sunday for the Steelers game,” said Higgins. “The bar is really cool, has a great atmosphere, and the owner is a super nice guy.”
Ryan Quigley, pharmacy technician and Duquesne University alumnus, came to Rome last week and stopped by to see the place himself.
“It was awesome. They had a Duquesne pennant hanging up right in the middle of the bar,” said Quigley. “I heard about this place from friends at home, but had to see it for myself.”
Michael Magestro, a Steeler fan who now lives in Oregon but was formerly from New Brighton, was in Rome eating dinner with a friend on a recent Sunday night. They looked up ‘Steelers bar in Rome’ and came to La Botticella.
“Even though I moved to Oregon, I’m still a die-hard Steelers fan, and I think this bar proves that the Steelers Nation is truly everywhere,” said Magestro.
Poggi himself has friends in the Pittsburgh area and visits every Thanksgiving.
“There is just something about Pittsburghers. They’re good, down-to-earth people: they’re my kind of people,” said Poggi with a grin.
Bertocchi has been going to La Botticella for years and has observed customers come and go.
“This little bar,” Bertocchi said, “is probably more important to Pittsburgh than it is to Rome.”