Many European cities have classic cafés, places that have been interwoven with society and culture for decades or even centuries. Some, like Demel in Vienna or Caffè Florian in Venice, are now chiefly tourist attractions, the locals having long since departed for somewhere quieter and less expensive. But others, like Café de Flore in Paris, still retain much of their authenticity, despite the year-round throngs of visitors. Here are five of our favorite classic cafés in Rome.
Antico Caffè Greco
Rome has innumerable cafés, but the oldest is Antico Caffè Greco on Via Condotti. Established in 1760, it is famous as the former haunt of literary and musical titans such as Stendhal, Goethe, Liszt and Wagner. Today, foreign visitors form the overwhelming majority of the clientele. However, I am sometimes tempted back in winter, when the elegant salons, with their formally attired waiters, velvet banquettes and fascinating art collection, can still summon the ghosts of the 19th-century Grand Tour.
A short stroll away, on the lovely pedestrian Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, Ciampini attracts affluent, designer-clad Romans, many of whom work in the fashion houses and upscale boutiques that line the nearby Via Frattina. The atmosphere is lively, the staff are friendly and hospitable, and on a sunny day it is a joy to sit beneath one of the café’s large white umbrellas, watching life pass by. I have lost track of the times I have arrived midmorning for a coffee, eventually succumbed to a glass of wine and then stayed for lunch (inevitably concluded with one of Ciampini’s famous gelati).