How to drink ponce like a local in Livorno
Welcome to a drink that’s like Livorno itself – shabby, feisty and authentic as hell.
The Tuscan port of Livorno was founded by the Venetians and populated by pirates, outcasts and miscreants.
They’ve always done things a little differently in Livorno, including how they drink their coffee.
They add a little rum to it and call it ponce.
Ponce is a mispronunciation of the word ‘punch.’
When the English Royal Navy dumped a consignment of particularly rough rum down at the docks in 1890 an enterprising local added coffee and two teaspoons of sugar and ponce alla livornese was born.
Aficionados take their ponce ‘con vela’ – with a sailor.
The sailor isn’t the salty sea captain holding up the bar. It’s a piece of lemon peel. The Livornese reckon it looks like the skin of a sailor just back from a tour of duty to the Antilles.
The best – and some say, only – place to drink ponce is Bar Civili.
Bar Civili has been serving ponce since 1890 and is Livorno’s self-proclaimed ‘bar, meeting place, institution and temple to continuity.’
The walls of the tiny bar are covered with old black and white photos of Livorno as well as paintings presented to the bar by local artists to pay off their drink tabs.
The most famous is a painting of the harbour at sunrise by Renato Natali. Natali was one of Italy’s most famous post-Macchiaioli artists. Judging by the number of his paintings on the walls he was also one of Livorno’s biggest lushes.
The ladies of Livorno prefer to drink Persianna, a startling green liquor that appears as though it may be radioactive. It is particular to Livorno too, and takes its name from the colour of the window shutters on the buildings that line the ancient canals. Thankfully it is not as lethal as it looks.
Bar Civili is a microcosm of Livorno itself – pragmatic, open-minded and buzzing with brio.
On any given night you’ll see cool girls clutching Gucci handbags, old guys in flat caps and breeches playing cards and the odd football fan looking for a stiff drink after another disappointing performance by the local team out at Stadio Armando Picchi.
The low wooden beams in Bar Civili are covered with football pennants from all over the world. If you present the manager with one from your club he’ll give you a ponce on the house.
Bar Civili is not in the most convenient location. It’s tucked away on a tiny lane, down near the train station.
But it’s worth the trek.
There’s a reason it has been voted Livorno’s #1 Nightspot on Trip Advisor.
How to visit Bar Civili in Livorno
Address: Via del Vigna 55, 57121, Livorno, Italy
Main image: Ponce and a deck of cards at Bar Civili in Livorno (Peter Moore)