Walking the streets of Lecce in southeastern Italy is like stepping back in time. But sipping a cocktail at Saloon Keeper 1933, you can almost taste the time travel. This is where to drink in Lecce, Italy.
When we first told people we were visiting Puglia, they told us to visit Lecce. We were expecting stunning baroque architecture, a sense of history and, of course, that southern Italian hospitality.
What we weren’t expecting was to find one of the best speakeasy bars we’ve ever been to. And that’s not where the surprises ended either.
Lecce’s beautiful baroque architecture has earned it the moniker of ‘the Florence of the South’.
Though I don’t think this is entirely accurate.
The elegantly crumbling render, ornate arches and tall square white walls of this baroque city reminded me more of Havana, Cuba.
And as the hot day turns to cool evening, the nightly passeggiata begins and the locals emerge to stroll the streets of their city. Lecce comes to life even more than in the rush and heat of the day, and those shades of Cuba are there again.
Social life expands to every corner of this ancient place, which was founded in the 200s BCE (150 years before Florence, thank you very much). With the city coming to life on its streets in the evening, shops, restaurants and bars are busy once again after a siesta that only tourists ignore.
It was just such an evening that we discovered a very special bar indeed.
Saloon Keeper 1933, Lecce, Italy
While the city itself has felt the footsteps of the Ancient Romans, and its unique iconic baroque architecture – barocco Leccese – goes back over 400 years, it was the swing and chic of the 1930s that caught our attention.
From a tiny street-level window cut into the thick, soft limestone bricks of a wall, the ‘side bar’ of Saloon Keeper 1933 presented itself to us.
We took the two barstools and little windowsill table on the street, thankful to rest our feet and hope for a drink. The chilled jazz tunes danced out of the window, followed by a friendly face.
Giuseppe was here to take our drinks order.
Without knowing it, we had chosen the best seat in the house.
From our windowside seats, we could see directly in behind the bar, and up and down the street for awesome people-watching. Our possie also gave us direct access to Giuseppe and his mixing skills.
First he stirred us up an excellent negroni and a gin cocktail from the specials menu.
Impressed, we next asked for a couple of gin martinis.
“What gin do you want?” Giuseppe asked.
The bar was incredibly well stocked. And even held some domestic craft gin. As you probably know, we love trying local produce – especially when it comes from a small-batch distiller!
I chose a spicy herby gin from the local region and Mrs Romance was tempted with the smoother option from further north. Both made excellent martinis – but perhaps that’s also credit to the barman.
From our seats we could see a little way inside the bar itself, but nothing prepared us for the full view.
The level of detail in this bar blew our minds. Ornate mirrors, chesterfield sofas, old ‘30s style telephones, hurricane lamps on tables, a gramophone, period art – even down to the napkin holder on the bar – it was perfect.
We had no doubt this place had been serving drinks for years and years – if not since the 1930s.
We were so wrong.
It was time for our biggest surprise yet: Saloon Keeper 1933 hadn’t even been open a year.
Third drink’s a charm
We had to come back to Saloon Keeper 1933 – in the name of research and journalistic integrity of course.
This time we sat outside the front of the bar with the rest of the clientele. The early evening air was warm and the relaxed vibe fit our setting perfectly. Kids played, adults talked and across the little piazza, the Church of San Niccolo dei Greci’s neoclassical façade punctuated the street.
From within Saloon Keeper 1933, our fine cocktails emerged and that satisfying feeling of discovering one of those rare places that tick all boxes filled our hearts.
Saloon Keeper 1933
Piazzetta Chiesa Greca 16
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Have you ever accidentally discovered a hidden diamond like Saloon Keeper 1933 when you’ve been away? Tell us about it in the comments.