The typical travel day for a tourist in Rome includes a Papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, a tour of the Colosseium and a cup of gelato, or two. But for Steelers Nation, it’s swarming to La Botticella, a pub which has become the official hangout spot for Steelers fans while visiting the Eternal City.
Giovanni Poggi, 43, owner and head honcho of the joint, never imagined the bar would turn into a Pittsburgh shrine.
Poggi opened La Botticella, formerly a wine merchant’s shop in a narrow cobblestone alley just off of Piazza Navona when he was just 22-years-old. The name came randomly 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 was born in Rome, and at the age of 4 his family immigrated to Canada, then 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, and the Steel Curtain of the ‘70s certainly helped.
As you walk into the cozy pub, you 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.
“It wasn’t built up to have a theme, but the bar just took its natural force,” says Poggi.
The bar just recently got the Steelers theme within the past 10 years when study abroad students from Penn State and Duquesne designated La Botticella as their home away from home. Poggi started to play Penn State football games, which was shortly followed by the black and gold taking the field of Sundays.
“Fans started pouring in,” says Poggi. “We usually get at least 30 people or more who come on game days.”
Former study abroad student and Pittsburgh native Jason Bertocchi, program manager for 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 watching it with my best friends at home, but being here with a bunch of Pittsburgh fans is a close second,” says Bertocchi.
He’s not the only one who has found the bar as a second home. 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,” says Higgins. “The bar was really cool, had a great atmosphere, and the owner was a super nice guy.”
Ryan Quigley, pharmacy technician and Duquesne University alumnus, came to Rome last week and made sure he stopped by to see the set up himself.
“It was awesome. They had a Duquesne pennant hanging up right in the middle of the bar,” says Quigley. “I heard about this place from friends at home, but had to see it for myself.”
Michael Magestro, engineer, formerly from New Brighton, lives in Oregon, and when he and his buddy were eating dinner 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 Steelers Nation is truly everywhere,” says 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,” says Poggi with a grin.
Bertocchi has been going to La Botticella for years and as an avid customer he has had time to observe the people who come and go.
He says, “This is just a little bar, and I think it’s more important to Pittsburgh than it is to Rome.”