Signage and Supper

Hosteria Pizzeria
An art deco style font announces the genre of the locale on a side street in Prati.

I stop for signs.


Not just the red circular ones at intersections. I break for the ones on top of storefronts, plugged into the sides of buildings, backlit, in block lettering, or fancy script. Typography is inseparable from the urban landscape, and I am always on the lookout for beautiful examples.

Rome offers many stunning typographical store and restaurant “headers”. Chunky script, art deco type, vertically elongated or horizontally stretched, cleverly arranged in a box or sprawled on the wall, typography is the centerpiece here. Compared to the New York streets, for instance, where many signs are all like labels, each with their own background color and logo, Rome’s are mostly just the words themselves mounted to the face of the building.  Label-like signs have either black or white backgrounds.

Last night, seated outside at a local osteria, I looked up and saw a wonderful little, whit box jutting from the side of the building. Two words in a stylized all-cap squarish font filled the white space. The green letters, striated at the base, echoed the green and white striped awning of the same restaurant.

The ubiquitous "T" for tabaccaio.
The ubiquitous “T” for tabaccaio.

The sign simply says “HOSTERIA PIZZERIA”. Its generic, non-branded message and its modest proportions make it seem as relevant as a pair of “T” signs a few feet down. A “T” sign appears on practically every street or two in Italy, indicating the presence of  a “Tabaccaio” (see Notes below where I explain what these are). The osteria/pizzeria’s name appears above its awning in the same angled, deco-style font, but is not noted on this small sign.  This separation is something I appreciate in Rome. Often the name of the type of the business is posted prominently, and the individual name of the locale, secondarily, or separately.

Like: SARTORIA (tailor). PARUCCHIERE (Hairdresser). TIPOGRAFIA (Printing). TINTORIA (dry cleaning). LUCE (lighting). BAR (cafe). FERAMENTA (hardware). ALIMENTARI (delicatessan).

The effect is subtle. No garish competition for your visual attention. And yet each business claims its own font, so neither is the overall effect blandly uniform.

I will continue to share the signs that have my attention for their delicious, old-school style.


Tabaccai are storefronts found in every neighborhood. The signs say “Sali e tabacchi” because at one time, salt and tobacco were the main products here. Now, these hubs sell postage, transport tickets, phone cards and all manner of stationery and gift items, and some even offer bill paying services, fax and photocopying.

Tarlucci e Vino, the NYC restauraunt that borrowed the Italian Tabaccai “T” for its logo

Dinner in off-the-tourist-path Prati at Da Tesone. [Carbonara rating: 7.]