Caffè Florian


San Marco is the most glorious piazza in all of Italy, rivaled for grace and grandeur only by San Pietro in the Vatican.  San Marco is also something to love and to hate. Love the grandeur, the beauty, the theatrical stage set.  Hate the throngs of tourists, pigeons, and tacky souvenirs, the deafening noise.  Love the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the elegant shops, the competing, repeating rhythms of the Procuratie Vecchie and Nuovo, the older more graceful, light and delicate, the newer, heavy, rich and bold.

For us, San Marco is a place to visit, but like any tourist attraction we approach it wearing armor, and depending on the time of year and the hour, it might be a place to linger.  Late at night, after a dinner on that side of the Grand Canal, we will take a night cap at the Caffè Chioggia, enjoying the jazz and waiting for midnight and the Marangona.  We always take our drink and go stand dead center in the Piazza and let the deep sounds of the ancient bell resonate from every direction and feel it deep in our chests. 

For the most part, though, we avoid going to San Marco (and the Rialto) because it destroys the serenity we feel in Venice.  (Gianni Basso, the affable producer of exquisite had-set printing says, “I never cross the third bridge from here in the direction of Rialto, because it lands in Hong Kong.”) Except, on every visit to Venice we must go at least once, preferably more often, to the Caffè Florian.

Historic, nostalgic, beautiful, gracious, magnetic, Caffè Florian draws us away from Santa Margherita to Piazza San Marco.  We never sit in the open in the Piazza or in one of the great Sale, still decorated in the opulent style from the 19th Century.  We always walk straight in past the reception stand and land at the tiny bar hidden next to the kitchen.  There we find Maurizio (or his partner Massimo), who greets us graciously.  We catch-up on what has occupied our lives during the past year. We smile and feel warmed. 

This little bar with its few stools and coveted two tiny tables is one of our very favorite places anywhere.  In continual operation since opening in 1720, we feel the presence of Casanova, Byron and Canova, but mostly we just enjoy chatting with Maurizio. 

We know that despite its tourist beacon, the Venetians love this bar. We love seeing Venetian mothers bring their children for a wickedly luxurious hot chocolate, or several local folks meeting for a chat, or a dowager alone with her tea.  We have been told that the Venetians don’t much care of the Quadri across the Piazza.  It was the favorite of Wagner and was the hang-out for the Austrian officers during the time they briefly ruled Venice, and too, the Nazis during the war. For us the Florian just somehow feels comfortable. Feels right. We always look forward to our next visit.   All photos click for larger image.

Piazza San Marco
Apr. 2005

The great space of Piazza San Marco is dramatically shown from the balcony of the Basilica.  The tables of Caffè Florian and its orchestra tent are on the left in the Procuratie Nuovo and those of the Quadri are on the right in the Procuratie Vecchie. The Piazza forms one, huge drawing room.

Waiters Waiting
Apr. 2002

I love this picture because of the little story it tells. All of Florian's waiters are waiting for the sun and the tourists it will bring to their tables, while the Quadri's seats are already bathed in sun and filled. Of course, Florian's waiters have found the warming sun themselves while they wait.

Rendezvous Nov. 2000

What is happening with this elegant couple in this elegant place? Perhaps an early morning tryst? Is she sad - perchance leaving Venice and him behind? Of course, this is what we expect of Venice - even if they are just husband & wife having coffee.

Morning Paper  Nov. 2000

Early in the morning before the crowds arrived, a quiet moment at the Florian. This day the crowds were kept away by the knee-deep water in the Piazza just in front of Kris's feet.

Coffee at the Bar  Nov. 2000

There are very few places in Venice - indeed, Italy - with stools at a bar where you can enjoy a coffee.  And precious few as refined as this.

An Afternoon Aperitivo   Apr. 2005

Our dear friend Diane just finishing her afternoon spritz. Notice the esse in the foreground. Don't be surprised if tidbits appear when  you grace this bar.

Barista Maurizio  Nov. 2000

Squinting from the flash, Maurizio shows his gentle nature. He is as gracious and congenial a Venetian as you can find. 

Postcards & Chocolate
 Nov. 20005

In April of 2005 we took our granddaughter to Venice for her first visit to Europe. Of course, the Florian was a must. Occupying one of the lovely (& coveted)  little tables in the bar, she enjoyed a hot chocolate while jotting postcards.

Oh Those Pigeons  Nov. 1988

Those damn pigeons.  This woman, all tailored and proper, feeding the pigeons at a Florian table. Well, her son seems to be delighted. The pigeons are as much a part of San Marco as the church, but they are like the hoards of tourists with whom they are so simpatico.

Caffè Quadri at Midnight
 Apr. 2005

This is the Quadri across the Piazza from the Florian. The effect of all the grand Caffès in San Marco late at night is the same. Ethereal,  very romantic and not like any mall in Kansas. We had just left the Mascaron to reach the Piazza in time to hear the Marangona. The orchestras stop for the great bell.

Caffè Chioggia just as the Marangona sounded   Nov.2000

All text and photos © Copyright Howard Case 2005