Venice has a rich history, but no café there is more famous than Caffè Florian in St. Mark’s Square. It’s where one can relish 18th-century decor and soak up the sun while listening to the patio orchestra, while gazing on Doge’s Palace (with a fleet of pigeons).
As the oldest café in Italy—and the world, in fact—Caffè Florian recently celebrated its 300th anniversary on December 29 with no fanfare. It was a far cry from the 290th celebration in 2010, with cakes, an enormous party, and a live concert. The café famed for its celebrity clientele—from Charles Dickens to Andy Warhol—now faces closure since the pandemic has taken a toll on tourism.
The exterior of the famed café.
“We do everything possible to keep the business alive,” Marco Paolini, the managing director of the café, tells AD. “We are working to stay open for as long as we can.”
The café was opened in San Marco Square in 1720 by Italian entrepreneur Floriano Francesconi (locals knew it as Floriano’s). It has been a gathering place for locals, a place to woo tourists, and a hot spot for A-listers for hundreds of years. In 1895, the idea of the Venice Biennale was born here, to pay homage to King Umberto and Queen Margherita, and scenes from Hollywood films have been shot here, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley (starring Matt Damon) and Summertime (starring Katharine Hepburn). Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, Casanova, and Charlie Chaplin. Ernest Hemingway would sit out on the patio drinking coffee in the sun, while Claude Monet charmed the pigeons into standing on his head in the same spot.
Today, it retains Old World charm, with red velvet seating, marble tables, and gold-leaf walls adorned with century-old artworks by Italian masters Antonio Pascutti, Giuseppe Ponga, and Cesare Rota.
Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and James Rebhorn in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, filmed at Caffe Florian.