If gourmet coffee has a spiritual home, it’s Italy. And there couldn’t be a better way to celebrate one of the world’s greatest inventions than in the Eternal City of Rome.
Located in the heart of the shopping mecca on the renowned Via dei Condotti near the famous Spanish Steps, Antico Caffè Greco is Rome’s oldest coffee bar and Italy’s second oldest. The historic landmark named after its original Greek owner opened over 250 years ago in 1760. Today, 2.5 centuries of history is celebrated all throughout the Café.
The famous and the nefarious have been here—Lord Byron, Hans Christian Anderson, Henry James, Keats, Shelley, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Mark Twain, Orson Welles, and a host of actors, artists, musicians, politicians, and dignitaries from around the globe. Serving as a refuge for an eclectic range of characters, the Caffè’s walls are adorned with an endless array of mementos, memorabilia, paintings, and portraits capturing the magnificent history of the coffee house. If only walls could talk.
But, then they don’t have to, for there is the Caffè Greco guest book, the revered journal that documents its many famous visitors.
In his memoirs, Casanova recounted the occasion of his first visit to the Caffè. In 1779, Goethe became a regular visitor here. He and many others even rented rooms on the floor above the Caffè.
Obviously, this is not your typical Italian coffee shop by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, they serve top quality espresso, cappuccino and other assorted coffees and teas. But their menu is extensive and impressive. It not only consists of a myriad of classic Italian cakes and biscuits but sandwiches, salads, hors d’oeuvres, wine, and cocktails. All are served by waitstaff in tuxes, bow ties, and long-tailed coats.
Guests are seated in red velvet chairs around marble-topped tables. Bowing as he introduced himself, Luca, our waiter was charming and engaging as he related the Caffè’s history and regaled stories of its famous clientele.
Patrons are an eclectic mix of locals and international travelers. But all, like us, are here no doubt to experience a piece of history while enjoying Caffè Greco’s richly appointed Baroque atmosphere epitomizing luxurious European culture at its finest. Watching the faces of other visitors browsing rooms of the Caffè for the first time was a treat. A British woman turned to her husband with a wide-eyed look and said “Oh my, I’ve never been to a Café anywhere like this—anywhere.”
Soft classical music plays in the background. Multiple open-arched rooms each sport a fascinating display of European art, sculptures, and the like. The cabinets in “Sala Rosa” or Red Room are filled with antique books. A stroll through these chambers is literally walking through a portal in time. Each piece of art has a unique story behind it.
After being strategically seated, I ordered a Caffè Doppio, a double shot espresso coffee, and my hubby decided on a Caffè Con Cioccolato, coffee with chocolate. Both were smooth, strong, velvety, and served in cups embossed with the Caffe’s name and founding year. Perhaps it was just the surroundings, but somehow coffee here tasted like we were each sipping a magic potion. That and our waiter made us feel like honored guests didn’t hurt either.
A glass-enclosed pastry and dessert counter at the entrance to the restaurant was filled with divine creations to tantalize the palate. A Ricotta and Pear Tart and a Sacher Torte made with chocolate and almonds were the perfect accompaniment to our coffee. Italian desserts are always a heavenly treat, and these two delectable delights were just plain incredible.
Surrounded by history, power, passion, love, life, and the tantalizing aroma of Italian coffee, we never anticipated the wondrous experience we enjoyed at the Caffè. Despite previously living in Italy and frequenting hundreds of coffee bars, nothing compared to Antico Caffè Greco. We brought home some of its famous coffee in a colorful tin, and it’s guaranteed we’ll be savoring it to the last drop as we reminisce our visit to the Caffè.
La vita è nulla senza caffè. Yes, life is nothing without coffee.
Photos and article by Noreen L Kompanik