Via Margutta –
Whenever I’m going to visit a city for the first time, I make it a practice to identify a few good vegetarian restaurants before I arrive. I’ve been doing this since long before the internet era, and it has led me to outstanding meals at restaurants such as Le Grenier de Notre-Dame in Paris and the sadly departed Zen Palate in NYC.
With our Amalfi Coast/Rome trip now just around the corner, I spent some time the other night looking for fine vegetarian restaurants in Rome. One that jumped out at me was il Margutta (est. 1979), which claims to be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Italy. It looks like my kind of place.
As I was looking at il Margutta’s menu, I was also wondering about the name, which sounds a lot like “gutter”. More research ensued, revealing a wonderful backstory.
The restaurant is on the legendary Via Margutta, which dates back 2000 years. Originally, it probably was an open sewer serving villas and palaces on the hill above. In more recent history, it has become a famously charming Roman street that was, among many other things, the home of Federico Fellini, the great Italian director.
I learned this, and much more from this brilliant article, Rome’s Very Short Street With a Long, Magnificent History, by Jeff MacGregor in Smithsonian Magazine.
MacGregor recounts Via Margutta’s role in the 1953 classic movie Roman Holiday:
Roman Holiday is a love letter to love, and to Rome and to Hepburn and Peck. It launched America’s postwar tourist business to Italy, and that courtyard apartment is so charming and famous that film buffs from all over the world seek it even today, more than 60 years later. But it’s easy to miss, and when you find it, the door is almost always closed and locked. If you don’t know the movie, the premise was simple: Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, is an American newspaperman scheming for a story and candid photos of runaway princess Audrey Hepburn. They fall in love, and he doesn’t get the scoop.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read this fascinating, wonderfully written article. If I do make it to the Via Magutta, I will give a firsthand account.
The courtyard at Via Margutta 51