Penguins coach Dan Bylsma visited La Boticella during a family trip to Rome.
By Kim Lyons Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even though games don't start until after 2 a.m., Pens fans know where to go in Rome when they want to watch their team.
Its reputation as a Steelers bar fairly well-established, La Boticella has become an oasis of black and gold in Italy's capital.
Roman-born proprietor Giovanni Poggi spent his formative years in Canada and fell in love with hockey early on. He started as a Maple Leafs fan, but developed an affinity for Pittsburgh, the Steelers and the Penguins after students from Pittsburgh colleges studying in Rome adopted his bar as their hangout. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma visited the bar on a trip to Rome with his family, and Poggi takes an annual trip to Pittsburgh each November. But hockey is far from dominant in Italy; although there is a team Poggi knows of in Milan.
"Ice hockey [in Italy] isn't at a high level of popularity, but there are a couple of rinks," he said.
But for Pens fans visiting Rome, La Boticella is a hockey haven.
Danny Walters, a student at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., is in Rome researching the influence of the papacy. His hosts, while very friendly, aren't exactly the partying kind.
"I'm staying in a convent," Walters said, "so it's nice to be able to come here and watch the games with a crowd that appreciates hockey."
Despite his first visit to La Boticella ending with the Pens losing to the Bruins, Walters said he plans to return. "I heard about this place and knew I was going to visit while I was in Rome, but it's really unbelievable to actually be here."
Allison Zappone of Greensburg, visiting Rome with her family, agreed. "Because even though you're in Rome, at the same time, you get that feeling that Pittsburgh is everywhere, that you're always at home.
Pittsburgher Rob Sterude, who was in Milan on business, said La Boticella was on his list of "must-visits" for a trip to Rome.
"I've known about it for a few years," he said. "So, now I've been to all the places in Italy on my list: The Colosseum, The Pantheon, and Giovanni's place. My trip is complete."