Tucked behind the Termini train station, just beyond the ancient Aurelian walls, San Lorenzo began life in the 1880's as a ghetto for southern Italian railway workers. It has seen more than a few incarnations since then—from bombed-out World War II casualty to college town—and in the past 10 years, a whole new character has emerged. Urged on by students from La Sapienza University and the Institute of Photography, a burst of bars, clubs, and restaurants opened their doors, and the graffiti-strewn pre-war palazzi that once housed working-class artisans have been transformed into hot destinations for the city's fashion-forward set.
The artists who live in the now-pricey lofts in the former Cerere pasta factory set the precedent, and young craftspeople followed suit. They christened a number of boutiques and funky ateliers in the quarter's condemned factories, then settled into apartments on the narrow streets south of traffic-ridden Via Tiburtina, which runs through the middle of San Lorenzo.
While the area has graffiti and garbage problems that make it appear run-down, a look above street level reveals its allure: bohemian apartments in San Lorenzo's dilapidated buildings—or even in the Aurelian walls—are among the hippest properties in the city. The fact that they're still a bit worn around the edges is no surprise: hiding diamonds in the rough is this neighborhood's specialty.
RESTAURANTS Tram Tram 44—46 Via dei Reti; 39-06/490-416; dinner for two $40. Run by Rosanna Borrelli and her daughters Fabiola and Antonella Di Vittorio, this trendy-meets-traditional trattoria was one of the first new establishments to open in San Lorenzo a decade ago. Signature dishes include orecchiette pasta with broccoli and river clams. The restaurant's name comes from the table-shaking trams that clatter along the street outside. Arancia Blu 55—65 Via dei Latini; 39-06/445-4105; dinner for two $43. Even confirmed carnivores will love this smart vegetarian restaurant, which serves interesting dishes such as potato-and-mint ravioli in a simple setting of wooden tables and raw stone walls. Da Marcello 12 Via dei Campani; 39-06/446-3311; dinner for two $26. Yellow Post-it notes with scribbled names indicate table reservations at Marcello, a buzzing meeting place for students, local characters, young trendsetters, and everyone in between. The typical Roman food isn't exceptional, but you won't find a better atmosphere anywhere. Uno e Bino 58 Via degli Equi; 39-06/446-0702; dinner for two $43. Adventurous diners challenge their palates at this experimental restaurant with weird and wonderful concoctions such as balsamic vinegar ice cream, and panna cotta with Roquefort cheese. Il Pulcino Ballerino 66—68 Via degli Equi; 39-06/494-1255; dinner for two $30. The mixed lunch platter is the big draw for young professionals at Il Pulcino Ballerino, a fuss-free restaurant whose name means "the Dancing Chick." In the evening, try cooking your own meat on heated oilstones (pietra oliare), a tradition imported from the Alps.
BEFORE AND AFTER DARK Bar Marani 57 Via dei Volsci; 39-06/490-016. Walking into Bar Marani is like stepping onto a Fellini set. The 98-year-old bar by the marketplace is where everyone (yes, everyone) pops in for coffee. In the afternoon, have an ice cream cone and mingle with artists, students, and shopkeepers on the vine-covered terrace. Rive Gauche 43 Via dei Sabelli; 39-06/445-6722. One of the first of the new breed of bars to open in the quarter, the pub here serves rum, wine, grappa, and more than 50 varieties of whiskey to a buzzing yuppie crowd. Giardini di Adone 38A Via dei Reti; 39-06/445-4382. Anyone over 25 will feel out of place at Adone, a kitschy club with modern frescoes of Adonis, a mirror ball, and local bands playing earsplitting music. Teatro Blackgull 14 Via dei Piceni; 39-06/445-1250. Recently opened by a group of actors and drama students, the 25-seat underground theater has the smallest stage you'll ever see. The plays and the atmosphere are quite good—even if you don't know a lick of Italian. Locanda Atlantide 22B Via dei Lucani; 39-06/4470-4540. From the outside, this brand-new club on the fringes of San Lorenzo looks like an abandoned bunker. Inside, musician Svevo Codella and brothers Pasquale and Simone Carolei have reinvented a ruined warehouse as a theater, club, bar, concert hall, and recording studio.
SHOPS L'Anatra all'Arancia 105—109 Via Tiburtina; 39-06/445-6293. Boho-chic clothes beckon Romans to San Lorenzo's hippest designer boutique. Among the hot labels: Marina Spadafora, Marithé + François Girbaud, Sonia Speciale, and Donatella Baroni (the store's owner and buyer). Studio d'Arte Contemporanea di Pino Casagrande 7A Via degli Ausoni; 39-06/446-3480. A frightening industrial lift takes you to the fifth floor of this shabby former pasta factory, where you'll find what you least expect. The dazzling, all-white walls of owner Pino Casagrande's contemporary art gallery display challenging works (some for sale) by top Italian and international artists. It's also a place to meet local artists, who gather here in the early evening for a chat and a glass of wine. Macondo 10 Via dei Latini; 39-06/446-0435. Giorgio Macondo crafts traditional, complex Mediterranean jewelry from an experimental mix of metals at his atelier. Among the lusted-after items: gold and silver bands with delicate Mediterranean motifs done in copper or bronze. Officine Casa Matta 78—80 Via dei Latini; 39-06/445-3658. Craftswoman Francesca Moscarelli gives new life to street junk and Granny's handed-down furniture with papier-mâché, dried-leaf, or hand-painted applications. Disfunzioni Musicali 4—14 Via degli Etruschi; 39-06/446-1984. The well-stocked music store is known by collectors worldwide for its vast selection of used vinyl. Check the rock, new-wave, and Italian music sections for rarities—like a Yardbirds LP with an Italian cover sleeve—that you won't find anywhere else.