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Italy: new home of the pub crawl?

Italians tackle the growing problem of binge drinking.

Italians drinking
A group of teenagers have a drink in a public square in Rome, Italy. Italians have become increasingly concerned about the level of binge drinking by tourists and underage Italian youths. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

ROME — Two years ago the manager of the Cork’s Inn, a cozy little Irish pub near the Colosseum, banned groups on organized pub crawls from entering.

“It’s disgusting," the manager said. "Herds of young tourists barge in, drink as much as possible in 10 minutes and then move on to the next pub. Shouting, singing and puking on the pavement. Allowing such things, just for the sake of earning money, goes against my morals.” 

Following the example of other European cities, Rome, once a symbol of “traditional” home-made culture made of pizzerias and a moderated nightlife, has turned into a destination for alcohol tourism.

The piazzas and streets of the Eternal City host Anglo-Saxon-style binge drinking and pub tours. Groups of up to 150 tourists — Germans, Americans, Swedish, British, many of whom are under 16-years old — roam the capital at night escorted by Italian guides.

For 20 euros each they visit the trendiest bars with the cheapest prices. Most pub crawl tours are organized by foreigners living in Rome (Russians and eastern Europeans) who recruit local youths to entice the tourists from popular historical sites, such as the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps.

Two “in” places are the Bulldog Inn and the Drunken Ship, famous for beer contests and wild foreign student parties.

“It’s a crazy time,” said 19-year-old Linda from Norway. “Here, drinks are less expensive than elsewhere and at the same time you enjoy sightseeing.”

But the reveling does not always end so happily. Last summer, a 20-year-old Australian tourist went skylarking from a bridge after one too many Tequila shots, fell into the Tiber and died.

Italy’s capital has drastically changed in recent years. At night, some historical areas of Rome turn into open-air toilets covered in beer bottles, broken glass and empty plastic cups. Adolescents (tourists and Italians) hang out till late and crowd Roman bridges and Renaissance monuments, drinking and smoking marijuana.

Picturesque Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, where in 1600 philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Holy Inquisition, has a double identity: During the day, the traditional open-air market fills the air with the scent of fresh fruits and baked bread; at night, beneath Bruno’s monument, it’s the smell of beer and vomit that seeps into the nostrils.

Many residents can hardly recognize their home town.