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Sipping 'droog' milk in Rome

At Latte Più, a milk bar patterned after 'Clockwork Orange's' Korova, the drinks are as intoxicating as the surroundings. A shot of absinthe in a chocolate shake? Il diavolo, indeed.

October 04, 2009|Baxter Holmes

ROME — I hear the waiter saying them, the first words of the story that brought me to this milk bar.

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

My answer: Bring me No. 66, the Diavolo -- "devil" in Italian.

Five minutes later, he's back with a chocolate milkshake, whipped cream on top, absinthe on the bottom. Its menu number is almost right. Add another "6" and it matches the concoction's demonic effect.

No, I didn't see green fairies -- the alleged absinthe experience. That would take absinthe with a strong dose of thujone, a chemical found in the wormwood plant. Thujone is said to induce drug-like effects, but thujone-laced absinthe isn't served at Latte Piu. Just the regular, bitter-beyond-belief 80-proof absinthe that tastes like black licorice and burns going down.

In a chocolate milkshake, you barely know it's there.

But you feel it. The warm sensation starts in your throat, migrates toward the back of your skull and swipes your motor skills and cognizance.

And the dairy cow with wings floating over the bar . . . the headless female mannequin chairs . . . the black lights blended with blue, pink and orange illumination. . . .

It all becomes a bit worrisome.

I wonder then, will I lose it?

But I don't say anything, because it took me a day of wandering around Rome to find Latte Piu, the milk bar based on the Korova Milk Bar that Anthony Burgess wrote about in "A Clockwork Orange" -- "What they sold there was milk plus something else."

And how. The drinks are pricey -- usually upward of 10 euros (about $15) -- but worth it, because when in Rome, drink the old "moloko."

I was here because a friend had sent me Burgess' book as a college graduation present. The inscription inside read: "Visit a bar called Latte Piu," which means "milk plus" in English. So, two days before I left the Eternal City, I spent an afternoon looking for this place, located outside the Roman walls in the southeastern quadrant of the city.

Google or an iPhone can get you there. I didn't have either; just good old paper and ink.

"I'm looking for Latte Piu," I asked, often. No help, because I don't speak Italian.

I showed the cover of the book.

" 'A Clockwork Orange'? Milk bar. Milk bar?" I asked.

Finally, I found an information booth with an English speaker on staff.

"Ah, from the movie."

He wrote the address on my map. I spent the next few hours looking for the sign. I found only blue doors. It's about 7 p.m., and they're locked, so I wait. A man comes out and tells me I've found it. Elation. It opens at 9:30 p.m. and closes at 2 a.m.

I return from my hostel hours later with four girls who've learned of my evening plans: "Heard of the milk bar from 'A Clockwork Orange'? I found it."

First things first: It's not like the bar in Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation. No lactating statues looming over patrons. No hoodlums with fake eyelashes speaking their own strange language. Just good-natured people, like you and me. (They speak English at Latte Piu, by the way.)

Second thing: The interior is intimidating. The drinks will intoxicate you, but so will the surroundings. The tables, for instance, are coated with a layer of fluorescent goo sealed with plastic.

Black lights make the goo glow, and when you set your drink on the table, the psychedelic goo moves about, making it seem as if you set your drink on an ocean of the stuff. That can be unsettling.

Compared to the book and the movie, Latte Piu's authenticity is right up there. Classical music, mostly Beethoven -- oh, sweet Ludwig van -- is all they play. On the menu are small pictures of Alex, the main character in "A Clockwork Orange," who's toasting you with a glass of milk.

After a few drinks I ask my waiter to sign my copy of the book, proof I have completed the task.

"Happens all the time," he says.

He gives me a couple of key chains -- little dairy cows -- and some postcards. He sends me a free drink later, because I came all the way from Oklahoma, and he's a nice guy.

I pay the fat bill and head back to the subway with the four girls. They all seem happy, but not as happy as I am.

If you're in Rome, stop by.

Just be careful. The milk hides the liquor well. Then again, when you look above the bar and see the distorted portrait of Vincent van Gogh with the word "absinthe" written across his chest, you understand.

What's it going to be then, eh?

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baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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If you go

Latte Piu, Via Albalonga 31, 00183 Rome, 011-39-06-770091.

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