Blood of Rome
Cauponae are the taverns of ancient Rome, drinking dens popular with the lower classes and the criminal fraternity, and with scions of wealthy senatorial families who are looking for a good time. There are no cauponae catering to the upper classes; the wealthy drink at home, or at elegant bathhouses.
Most cauponae, accordingly, are found on the ground floors of insulae, although some are built into other structures, such as bathhouses, or even the arches supporting aqueducts. As most stay open all night, and are prone to erupting into singing, arguing, brawling or all three, they are not the most popular neighbors. Indeed, brawls are not infrequently caused by the person living above a caupona coming down to complain about the noise.
The typical caupona is small, with space for about half a dozen patrons, and most cater almost exclusively to a regular clientele. That is not to say that the owners drive new customers away; even the most reliable patrons die eventually, and need to be replaced. However, many are not welcoming to new arrivals, who should expect to have to buy a lot of drinks for themselves and others, and visit the place many times, before they are truly accepted. Friends and contacts of a regular are tolerated on occasional visits, and can become regulars far more quickly than people who just walk in off the streets.
Wine is the drink of choice for Romans, mixed with varying amounts of water to avoid instant, incapacitating intoxication. A successful owner of a caupona, called a caupo, learns quickly how to adjust the quality of the wine to the client’s inebriation. Most cauponae also serve snacks, which means that they have a small kitchen; these are not an uncommon cause of serious fires.
The character of a caupona is determined almost entirely by the character of its patrons; physically, most consist of a counter, with the patrons sitting on one side and the caupo standing on the other. The patrons normally, but not absolutely always, have something in common apart from drinking at the same caupo. This might be as simple as all living in the insula in which the caupo is found, or they might all be sailors, or all free gladiators (that would be a bad place to pick a fight) or all members of a secretive religious cult. Because most cauponae rely on regulars and their friends, the cauponae may not be obvious from the outside, and the affiliation of the patrons rarely is.
There are, of course, exceptions. Rome is still a busy city, drawing people from all over the world, and visitors want to drink as well. Some larger cauponae do advertise their presence, and welcome foreigners to drink there. These places are much more likely to cheat and rob their clients, of course, but that’s the price of being from out of town.
Equipment Bonuses: Most caupos keep a weapon, usually a heavy club, under the counter to deal with rowdy patrons. Eating knives are always easily available, as are wine amphoras, which can also serve as clubs.