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).
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè
A very different establishment, the tiny Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè lies a brief walk to the south on the Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, adjacent to the Pantheon. This is the most celebrated venue in Rome for a breakfast caffeine fix — it is said that the Romans have invented a near-endless number of ways to drink coffee — and at the beginning of the working day people often stand three deep at the stainless steel counter. I prefer to arrive a little later, when the crowds have thinned, and to sit at one of the small tables outside, with an espresso and a pastry. Arabica beans have been roasted on a wood-fueled, hand-calibrated coffee roaster here since 1948.
Canova and Rosati
Arguably, Rome’s two most glamorous cafés are both to be found on the Piazza del Popolo, the exquisite neoclassical square that lies just inside the Aurelian Walls, at the starting point of Via Flaminia, the principal Roman road to the north. On the southeastern corner of the piazza, Canova is a grand café and restaurant, much favored by guests at the adjacent Hotel de Russie. In Rome, you tend to be either a habitué of Canova or its art deco rival, Rosati, on the opposite (southwestern) corner of the square. Personally, my loyalty has always belonged to the latter. Dating from 1922, Rosati was once regarded as a literary café, frequented by luminaries such as Italo Calvino and Alberto Moravia, but nowadays it is principally Roman businesspeople and foreign tourists who fill its tables beneath the cream-colored awning. (As the evening wears on, the ratio of Romans to visitors tilts progressively toward the former.) The prices are predictably high — some might say ridiculous — but the people-watching is peerless. And the setting is not just aesthetically exquisite but animated until the early hours of the morning.