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Historic Cafes in Venice: elegance and tradition

Historic Cafes in Venice: elegance and tradition

November 2020

When it comes to historic cafes in Italy, Venice is for sure one of the top destinations. Thanks to its unique, charming atmosphere, to its canals and its fine architecture, over the centuries, Venice has become the perfect setting for elegant cafes, some of which reached such a fame that they are now symbols of the city.

But it’s not just Venice’s perfect frame that made those cafes famous. The business relationships that Venice held with Arab merchants have indeed initiated the cafe tradition, that later spread to the rest of Italy too.

News about the first “botega da caffè” (coffee shop) dates back to the end of the 17th century. Nevertheless, it was only over the 18th century that cafes became popular, when nobles, thinkers and intellectuals began to meet up publicly in cafes.

In today’s article we want to walk you through the most authentic and elegant historic cafes in Venice and to suggest you an unconventional, exciting and – why not – also tasty itinerary through the city!


Caffè Florian

We could start with nothing else but the Caffè Florian, the oldest cafe in Venice, founded in 1720. When crossing its doors, you will feel like stepping back in time. Luxury furniture and fine decorations will bring you back to the 19th century, when the Caffè Florian was carefully renovated according to that time’s fashion. It hosted well-known personalities such as Giacomo Casanova, Carlo Goldoni, Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Did you know that… When it opened it was called “Alla Venezia Trionfante” (lit. At the Triumphant Venice). Only later it changed its name after its founder, Floriano Francesconi.

Address: Piazza San Marco, 57.

Gran Caffè Quadri

The Gran Caffè Quadri, also located in Piazza San Marco, opened in 1775. Its founder was Giorgio Quadri, a merchant who decided, together with his Greek wife Naxina, to open a cafe in Venice after a long stay in Corfu, which at that time belonged to the Republic of Venice. Quadri took over an old wine and coffee shop already well-known in the city, located under the Procuratie Vecchie, and turned it into one of the favorite cafes of the Venetian nobility.

The Caffè Quadri also boasts a respectable clientele since its opening, from Stendhal and Marcel Proust to, in most recent times, the film director Woody Allen (just to name a few). In 1830 the cafe expanded, turning the first floor into a restaurant.

Address: Piazza San Marco, 121.

Harry’s Bar

If you are wondering where the name of this historic cafe (it opened in 1931) comes from, well its story is pretty unique. It is said that a young and wealthy American, Harry Pickering, was a habitual guest at the Hotel Europa, where Giuseppe Cipriani worked as a bartender. When Pickering stopped attending the bar because of financial problems, Cipriani lent him a fair amount of money (according to the most, 10,000 lire). Two years later Pickering, economically recovered, came back to the same bar to repay his debt and show his gratitude to Cipriani. He gave the bartender five times the sum of money he had borrowed so that Cipriani could open his own bar. The bar was then dedicated to Mr. Pickering, becoming “Harry’s Bar”.

The undiscussed and timeless iconic drink of the Harry’s Bar is Bellini.

Address: Calle Vallaresso, 1323.

Caffè La Calcina

Although less fascinating than the other above-mentioned cafes, La Calcina still deserves a place in the list of the best historic cafes in Venice because of its story and the illustrious minds that used to sit at its tables. It owes its name to the lime sellers warehouse located inside the building in the 17th century. It became an inn and a pension, that hosted John Ruskin in 1877, who drafted his “The Stones of Venice” right here. But also other illustrious names sat at La Calcina, such as – to name one – Giuseppe Verdi.

Today it is called Caffè La Piscina, in memory of the bathing establishment that stood here in the 1960s, when the lagoon was a swimming area.

An authentic place, with a strong and rooted tradition, that has always been dear to the Venetians.

Address: Dorsoduro, 780.

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