If walls could talk, there would certainly be a story or two to tell… Milan’s historical cafes are none other than little monuments, essential stopovers for those who intend to explore the city’s innermost soul.
Dropping in to one of these places is a richer, more intense experience than the usual espresso knocked back on the go when away from home or the classic breakfast at the bar. Many anecdotes and interesting facts add even more flavour to what is eaten or drunk here, in a place where time seems to have stopped: let’s discover some of the most important historical cafés in Milan.
Caffè Bistrot Savini, via Ugo Foscolo
In Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, since back in 1867 the Savini has been a symbol of exclusivity and elegance, characteristics that soon enabled it to become the ultimate sophisticated meeting place for the Milanese aristocracy.
Its list of illustrious patrons goes on forever. Artists like Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and Eleonora Duse, but also writers such as Gabriele D’Annunzio and Ernest Hemingway, actors like Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Charlie Chaplin and impressive figures such as Henry Ford, Ranieri and Grace of Monaco.
Today the Savini is divided into a gourmet restaurant on the first floor, a café bistro on the same level as the Gallery and a food boutique in the basement.
Caffè Pasticceria Cova, via Montenapoleone
Opened in 1817 as a literary café by one of Napoleon’s soldiers, in 1848, Caffè Pasticceria Cova became a meeting place for the patriots of the Risorgimento who organised the uprisings of the Five Days of Milan here, while it was also popular with the high society at the same time.
The favourite haunting place of Giuseppe Verdi, Caffè Pasticceria Cova was also popular with historical characters like Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cairoli, Boito, Verga and many more. Having also been famously mentioned in Hemingway’s stories, the bar founded by Antonio Cova is still one of the most famous historical cafés in Milan today.
Bar Jamaica, via Brera
Originally named “Ponte di Brera” in 1911, at the beginning it was a wine shop, where rivers of wine were drunk during never-ending card games of Scopa. In 1940 it became Bar Jamaica based on an idea by Giulio Confalonieri, a critic of Il Corriere della Sera, who was inspired by its smoky atmospheres that reminded him of a 1939 Alfred Hitchcock film.
Its location, at a stone’s throw from Brera Fine Arts Academy, has made it the obvious choice for several generations of painters and writers, gaining fame as the “artists’ café”. Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Salvatore Quasimodo, Luciano Bianciardi and many more have all passed through here for an espresso or an aperitif.
The best-know anecdote about Bar Jamaica stars the then-director of “Il Popolo d’Italia” Benito Mussolini. Previously a regular customer, one fine day in1922 the future Duce would suddenly disappear, leaving a long bill to be paid!
Bar Magenta, via Carducci
Bar Magenta is more than one of the historical cafés of Milan. Instead it is truly one of the city’s institutions. Opened since 1907 on the corner between Via Carducci and Corso Magenta, from the very beginning this bar has had a diverse, heterogeneous clientele, composed of nobles and university students, artists and businesspeople.
In addition to its legendary sandwiches, the circular bar counter and deco interior are the symbols of a bar in which the cultures and the emerging subcultures have always been mixed, helping to make the history of this city.
Bar Magenta in Milan slots in perfectly to an all-Italian tradition, which has turned these bars into little museums brimming with history: discover the oldest cafés in Italy!