When in Rome, do as Pittsburghers do and visit this Steelers bar | TribLIVE.com

When in Rome, do as Pittsburghers do and visit this Steelers bar

Courtesy of Mike Morlacci
The Steelers logo at the entrance to La Botticella Birreria, a Steelers bar in Rome.
Courtesy of Mike Morlacci
“Pittsburgh Jesus” greets patrons at La Botticella Birreria, a Steelers bar in Rome.
Courtesy of Mike Morlacci
Bits of Western Pennsylvania adorn the shelves of liquor at La Botticella Birreria, a Steelers bar in Rome.
Courtesy of Mike Morlacci
A large banner proclaiming Steelers Country inside La Botticella Birreria, a Steelers bar in Rome.
Courtesy of Mike Morlacci
The Steelers logo at the entrance to La Botticella Birreria, a Steelers bar in Rome.

A large white banner welcomes patrons to the dark tavern nestled in the heart of Rome.

“You’re In Steelers Country,” it reads — a sign that Steelers country has no borders.

Despite being just a few blocks from the Vatican and among Rome’s attractions like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, La Botticella Birreria feels more like the Strip District than a major European capital.

La Botticella Birreria is a Pittsburgh Steelers-themed oasis in the Eternal City.

Giovanni Poggi and his sister Sonia manage the bar. He says he sees hundreds of Steelers fans each week. Other than a Facebook presence, awareness of the attraction is disseminated through word of mouth. A Steelers sticker on the window is the only external indicator of what awaits inside.

La Botticella Birreria translates to “the barrel alehouse.” It has an ancient appeal indicative of Rome. A cobblestone avenue connects the neighboring postcard-worthy buildings. Restaurants, bars, clothing and souvenir shops line the street.

One step within the doorway is an overwhelming visual blitz of Pittsburgh. The rush is led by a bar statue affectionately referred to as “Pittsburgh Jesus,” which is a Jesus statue adorned with a Steelers helmet. Team photos, signed jerseys, posters and plaques barrage from the flanks.

Behind the bar, a wall of liquor is adorned by autographed Steelers jerseys, college jerseys and pennants. Slippery Rock, Point Park, Penn State, Pitt, Washington & Jefferson and Saint Vincent College are among those represented.

“People who don’t see their college banner here usually bring one during their next visit,” Poggi said.

Other Pittsburgh bits on display include Kennywood and Pittsburgh Zoo signs, a Stanley Cup replica and a Pirates plaque. But this bar is first and foremost a Steelers bar. The aforementioned Steelers Country banner hangs above a wide-screen television.

Poggi said he became a Steelers fan while a kid in Canada during the team’s dynasty in the 1970s. He said that he was born in Italy, moved with his family to Canada, and returned to Italy while in his 20s. He opened La Botticella in the 1990s and, by the 2000s, made it a full-fledged Steelers bar to honor his team.

A photo of Poggi with Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris is displayed. In addition to the hundreds of Pittsburgh pilgrims, visitors have included numerous current and former Steelers and the Rooneys.

Poggi’s full command of the English and Italian languages easily enables him to connect with patrons. He seems to know someone whom they may know. He also communicates via a cool demeanor necessary for an establishment owner that bridges language and cultural gaps. La Botticella does not serve food, but “if you like pizza …” Poggi knows a guy and, through the international language of quid pro quo, he will get you a good table and highly attentive service at a restaurant around the corner.

Poggi sells items that he said could “have a business of their own.” They include a T-shirt that morphs Julius Caesar’s phrase Veni Vidi Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) into Steelers Super Bowl success, stating Veni Lusi Vici (I came, I played, I conquered). Another shirt is tailored to Western Pennsylvanians of Italian descent, stating “ItalYINZ do it better.” He also offers a version of the iconic Terrible Towel, displaying the Roman Colosseum, called “I’asciugamano Terribile.”

So, when in Rome, don’t do as Romans do. Instead, visit La Botticella, and proudly proclaim, “Forze (Go) Steelers!”

Mike Morlacci is a contributing writer.

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