Historical cafes


The Venetians first discovered the strong aroma of coffee one morning in 1570 thanks to a doctor and botanist, Prospero Alfino, who had discovered a drink “black in colour and similar in flavour to chicory” during his stay in Egypt and thought his countrymen might also like it.
In the beginning this drink, produced from a seed called “Kahvè”, was very expensive and was sold from pharmacies. The first “coffeehouse” was opened in Venice’s Piazza San Marco in 1683, under the Arcate delle Procuratie. After that, new shops sprung up all-over the city (in 1763, for example, there were 218) becoming meeting places for discussing business and culture and spreading throughout Italy.

Coffee was even described by the great Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni in his tragicomedy, "The Persian Bride", composed in 1753 for the Teatro San Luca (after having also written the comedy "The Coffeehouse" in 1750):

"Here's your coffee, sir, coffee in Arabia grown
and brought here by the caravans from Isfahan.
Arabian coffee is surely always the best;
… You need only a little to make it;
You put in your dose and don't spill it on fire.
Let the froth rise, then lower it, all at once
Six, seven times or more, then the coffee is done. "

Just take a seat and sip a cup of coffee in Venice's Piazza San Marco (a few minutes' walk from the Hotel Londra Palace) and you can imagine you are still in "The Coffeehouse" of Goldoni’s time.

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The CAFFÈ FLORIAN, for example, which was opened on December 29, 1720 by Floriano Francesconi under the name “Alla Venezia Trionfonte” (Venice Triumphant), is the oldest coffeehouse in Italy. As well as Goldoni, Giacomo Casanova used to come here. This was not by chance; at the time, it was the only place that allowed women to enter.

Lord Byron, Sivio Pellico, Daniele Manin, Ugo Foscolo, Goethe, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Antonio Canova all used to have meetings in the intimate atmosphere of these rooms.

The GRANCAFFÈ QUADRI, which still has the antique charm of a patrician home, boasts instead of visits by Stendhal, Dumas and Proust and, it may interest you to know, more recently the likes of Robert de Niro, Woody Allen, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have also been here.

It was Giorgio Quadri‘s wife, Naxina, who, in the second half of 1700, had the idea of investing the family’s wealth in a business selling “boiling black water”.

Next to the Quadri, is the LAVENA, where Richard Wagner met the owner Carlo Lavena and they entertained one another in the upper loggia along with his wife Cosima, his daughters and his famous father-in-law, Franz Liszt, taking tea with pastries or a glass of cognac.

But Honoré de Balzac and Gabriele D ‘Annunzio also used to be customers, often in the company of the famous Countess Casati, “a living work of art”, who used to walk leopards with diamond-studded collars and wear live pythons around her neck.

Amongst those places which are an integral part of Venice’s history, don’t miss HARRY’S BAR, which is also just behind Piazza San Marco (at the entrance of Calle Vallaresso). It was founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani. Amongst the signatures in his Guest Book are those of Arturo Toscanini, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin, Peggy Guggenheim, Barbara Hutton and Orson Welles (who wolfed down shrimp sandwiches with chilled Dom Perignon).

But the customer most associated with the establishment’s history remains, indisputably, the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who even had his own table in the corner during the winter of 1949/1950. (He won a Nobel Prize a few years later).

In Harry’s Bar, however, you shouldn’t just order a coffee. You should, at the least, try a Bellini, a cocktail made from prosecco and the puree and juice of white peaches, created in 1948 by Cipriani himself. It was so named because of its pink colour which reminded Cipriani of the colour of a saint’s toga in a painting by Giovanni Bellini.

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