A lot has changed in 2020, but a year is hardly a blink of an eye when you think of how far back Italy’s history stretches. One of the only trips I have taken this year was to Venice. On the top of my to-do list was an indulgent drink ay Caffè Florian, the oldest coffee house in Venice.
Caffè Florian is pure elegance. Set right on Piazza San Marco, the most famous square in a city with no shortage of beautiful sites, the coffee shop is turning 300 years old on December 29th, 2020.
The coffee shop first opened on December 29th 1720. It was founded by Florian Francesconi, who called it Alla Venezia Trionfante.
However, it quickly became such a hit with customers that they simply called their favorite meeting spot after the owner: Caffe Florian. The old coffee shop is still a beloved meeting spot and carries the name of its founder to this day.
Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world and I have often stopped to listen to the outdoor quartet serenading the diners who sit with their spritzes in the piazza. But I had never stopped in for a drink, despite my frequent trips. With the landmark anniversary looming, it seemed like the time to change that in 2020.
January in Venice is damp and cold so I opted to sit inside the gilt dining rooms of the historic cafe.
The only thing that has put me off of Florian’s previously was its prices. And I actually walked in in the morning and back out because I could not stomach paying over €10 for a coffee. (Though a typical espresso is *only* €6.50).
While I was looking at the coffee menu, the hot chocolate caught my eye. Italian hot chocolate is thick, sweet, and indulgent. It seemed like a perfect warming compromise.
I sank into the velvet benches and my hot chocolate arrived on a platter. Left to my own devices, I slowly dipped the delicate biscotti into the drink while quietly people watching.
If you visit Caffe Florian, you will be in good company. The coffee shop has hosted artists and intellectuals for hundreds of years. It was the first cafe to admit women clientele in Venice, as well.
It is absolutely worth at least one drink here – if only to soak up the atmosphere of the rooms, which date back to the 18th century. I found that the white-jacketed waiters seemed intimidating but were actually quite nice. I never felt rushed or pressured. Everyone at Florian’s seems proud of the history and happy to host visitors to experience it.
Of course, during warmer weather, it is hard to resist a seat out on the piazza with San Marco in front of you and the band behind you.
Think of it like a museum. The higher prices are a part of the admission to experience the history and culture of the space.
A spritz will set you back €14 (verses €4 or less in other parts of Venice), but nowhere can compete with the beauty of your surroundings. A club sandwich is €17.50 and I was tempted… but I had limited time and more see.
The iconic cafe had planned to spend the year marking its 300th birthday, but the coronavirus and acqua alta has put quite a damper on its plans. Recent floods resulted in €100,000 in repairs for the coffee shop. Couple that with almost zero tourism, and Christmas restrictions that prevent even locals from sitting down for a drink, and you have a deficit that is difficult to make up.
However, Florian has endured for three centuries and I hope (and believe) that it will be open for more.
Happy 300th birthday! We will be back to toast it as soon as we are able.
Piazza San Marco
Open every day