Among the most ancient Italian cafes, we rightfully find the historical cafes of Venice. And it was indeed here, in the largest city of the Veneto region that this kind of bar made its Italian and European debut, also due to the central location of the ancient maritime republic and its commercial relations with the Arab world.
The first sacks brimming with coffee beans reached the coast of Venice as early as in the 17th Century, but the black beverage only became popular in the 18th Century, when the city’s “coffee shops” caught on, meeting points for people of all social classes. Today, it is still possible to savour an espresso in bars boasting impressive histories and infinite charm: let’s discover a few of them.
Caffè Florian, Piazza San Marco
The oldest cafe in the world opened its doors in 1720 in Piazza San Marco. It was initially known as “Venezia Trionfante” or “Triumphant Venice”, but soon became Caffè Florian, in honour of its founder, Floriano Francesconi.
The charm of one of the first literary cafes has cast its spell over a long series of famous clients throughout the centuries, including Giacomo Casanova, Carlo Goldoni, Marcel Proust and Silvio Pellico.
In 1858, the cafe was restored and renovated. Over the years it would be extended, with new rooms and many works of art that still embellish the luxurious interiors of this historical cafe in Venice to this day.
Caffè Quadri, Piazza San Marco
Like Caffè Florian, Caffè Quadri is also located in Piazza San Marco, under the colonnades of the Old Procuratie. It was opened in 1775 by Giorgio Quadri, a Venetian merchant who had returned to his hometown after living in Corfu for many years; during its first years of business, the cafe became the place for the aristocracy of the time.
In 1830, Caffè Quadri was drastically renovated, and a restaurant was opened on the first floor, the only one that remains open in Piazza San Marco today. This historical cafe has welcomed a myriad of brilliant clients over the years, including Stendhal, Alexandre Dumas, Lord Byron. And now its clientele also includes the many actors and directors who visit the Floating City for the Venice Film Festival each year.
Caffè Lavena, Piazza San Marco
At the foot of St. Mark’s Clock Tower, again in Piazza San Marco, we find Caffè Lavena, undoubtedly one of the most important historical cafes in Venice.
The cafe was opened in 1750 and throughout the years, it changed its name several times. It was initially called “Regina d’Ungheria” or “Queen of Hungary”, then “Orso Coronato” or “Crowned Bear”, only gaining its current name when it was purchased by Carlo Lavena.
The cafe was very popular with artists and musicians (it is no coincidence that it was the favourite cafe of German composer Richard Wagner). Today, Caffè Lavena evokes its prestigious past by maintaining and flaunting its period decor: to think that the green marble tables and wood and velvet chairs have been there for centuries certainly makes a striking impression on any visitor.
Our journey through the history and tradition of espresso in Italy doesn’t end here: continue this amazing journey and discover the historical cafes of Turin, the cafes of Milan and the ancient cafes of Naples.