Caffè Florian opened in Saint Mark’s square, in Venice, in 1720, and to this day remains one of the icons of the city on the water.
The great square has always been a special place for the cosmopolitan crowd to relax. Between 1683 and the middle of the following century, 206 new haunts opened here, and many were called ‘caffè’ or ‘botteghe da acque’ (“water shops”) – serving lemonade, hard ice cream, zabaglione and sweets, sorbets and chocolate. And, of course, the dark beverage that had been imported from Constantinople in the end of the 16th century, and which was so fashionable in the Florian’s times that Carlo Goldoni remarked: “Everyone tries to do what everyone else is doing. Where aquavit used to flow, now coffee is in style.”
Floreano Francesconi had given his coffee house a bombastic name, “Triumphant Venice”. But Venetians were aloof to that exaggerated claim, ad started to call the place by its owner’s name, pronounced in the local dialect: “Floriàn”.
Stendhal, Foscolo, Lord Byron, and Balzac – to mention but a few – sat in the frescoed parlors of the famed rendezvous, at the while marble tables. And so did Richard Wagner, who died in Venice, the city “beyond the fancy of the wildest dreamer”, as Charles Dickens, another loyal patron of the Florian, wrote.
Famous men, intellectuals, even geniuses perhaps, loved the place where – in the words of Venetian poet Attilio Sarfatti – “as time cheerfully goes on / we work hard so that we may do nothing”.