This time we are not here to tell you about unusual coffee shops around the world, but about places that seem as though they have been left behind in the passage of time. There is nothing more fascinating than enjoying a coffee sitting in one of the Italian literary cafes. The atmosphere you can find in these establishments almost seems to transport you back in time, to when these places, which appear to have remained immune to the changing fashions, were full of intellectuals, scientists and representatives of the educated middle classes.
We have selected 5 Italian literary cafes which you should not miss, running from the north to the south of Italy.
Literary cafes in Italy: a journey from north to south.
Before we start out on this journey perhaps it would be a good idea to understand more about what we mean with the term “literary cafe”. Coined around the year 1700, the literary cafes became meeting places where people could come together and talk about culture, art, literature and many other intellectual themes ranging from philosophy to politics. The topics discussed in these places soon transformed them into a symbol of enlightenment culture.
These days the Italian literary cafes have lost this function but still retain that same charm…
Caffè Tommaseo (Trieste)
Established in 1830 next to one of the most beautiful places in the city, the famous Piazza Unità d’Italia, the Caffè Tommaseo owes its name to Tommaso Marcato, who came to the city on business. To enrich the café, raise the intellectual level and make it one of a kind, the painter Gattieri was chosen to decorate the interior, while still today the huge mirrors, which were especially imported from Belgium, still stand out.
Among the famous characters that frequented the café, there was the poet Besenghi degli Ughi, Svevo, Joyce, Stuparich, Quarantotti Gambini and Umberto Saba. In 1954 it also attained the official title of “historic establishment of Italy”: from that moment the Caffè Tommaseo has been protected as an artistic and historic monument.
Caffè al Bicerin (Torino)
The history of this café dates back to 1763, thanks to Giuseppe Dentis. At the beginning, the Café was very simply furnished and quite spartan, with wooden tables and benches but, thanks to the work of the architect Carlo Promis, it became more and more elegant and sophisticated, with white marble tables and wooden paneling on the walls. The name of the café comes from the drink caffè bicerin (link), which was invented here.
The Caffè al Bicerin is also an example of female entrepreneurship. Even if it was inaugurated by a man, the running of the establishment soon passed to the women. The fact that this café was run by women and its position opposite the Santuario della Consolata, helped to transform it into meeting place for the ladies of Turin, and a place where they could meet and feel quite at ease. The specialties served were those typical of a chocolaterie and the only alcoholic drinks available were vermouth, rosolio and ratafià low alcohol liqueurs.
Giubbe Rosse (Firenze)
Opened at the end of the 1800s by the Reininghaus brothers, in the Mercato Vecchio, in the heart of Florence. The opening of the café was made possible by the redevelopment of the area, which for too long had been an area of delinquency and degradation. Its particularly unusual name actually has very simple origins: it actually derives from the gaudy color of the red jackets that were chosen for the Carabinieri (military police) in 1910, when the new owner restructured the bar in art nouveau style.
The history of the Giubbe Rosse is closely linked to Italian literature, from futurism with Giovanni Papini, Ardengo Soffici and Giuseppe Prezzolini; to ermetismo with Carlo Bo, Mario Luzi, Tommaso Landolfi and Oreste Macrì. This continued then with some the most of the most famous writers in Italian history such as Elio Vittorini, Salvatore Quasimodo, Luciano Guarnieri and Antonio Bueno.
Antico Caffè Greco (Roma)
Situated in the heart of the immortal city, in Via Condotti, the Antico Caffè Greco has its roots deep in the past. First opened in 1760, it soon became the meeting place for intellectuals in the capital and for artists, mostly coming from Germany. Among its assiduous clientele were Gioacchino Pecci, the future Pope Leone XIII, and Silvio Pellico.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus (Napoli)
When you talk about coffee, you can’t not mention Naples. The Neapolitan city not only makes this drink into an indispensable ritual but, as we described some time ago in an article about the ‘caffè sospeso’ (link), also into a gesture of solidarity. The official inauguration date of this café is 1890, the year in which the Gran Caffè Gambrinus became the heart of the della vita mondana, culturale e letteraria of Naples. So its rooms – called “of politics”, “of life ” and “of the circle” – became the perfect stage for meetings and symposiums for the journalists, writers and artists of that time.
There is a long list of first class historic characters who chose to frequent this unmissable establishment: from foreign writers such as Oscar Wilde and Hemingway, to Italian ones such as D’Annunzio and Benedetto Croce. There are also many female names to mention among those who frequented the Gran Caffè, such as the princess Sissi and a woman who became one of the protagonists of Naples, Matilde Serao.
Are there any other Italian literary cafes that we haven’t talked about? Write to us about them in the comments so that we can complete our “historical” map of coffee!