At the beginning of 2018, Gran Caffè Quadri – which the Padua Alajmo family has managed for some twenty years – came back to new life thanks to a brilliant idea by French designer and architect Philippe Starck. Starck uncovered the long history of decor hidden in the many cleaning and renovation operations this historical venue underwent since 1638, when it opened as “Caffè Rimedio” under the porticoes of the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco.
Now stuccoes, mirrors, floral decor, views and glimpses of Venice painted by 19th-century artist Giuseppe Ponga, pastel-color walls and columns, and red damask upholstery: everything is back where it once was, so you can see the famous meeting place – turned into a success by merchant Giorgio Quadri, after 1775 – in the original perspective. Quadri’s great innovation was to start selling “steaming black water”, a popular drink Venice had began importing from Turkey in the late 17th century: coffee, of course.
Gran Caffè Quadri, just like the famous Florian it sits in front of, was described in a number of 19th-century guides to Venice: “In the summer, the two establishments compete to scatter the most tables and chairs in the square”; “Quadri is bustling and noisy. Florian is elegant, like the ancient dragon it is named after”; at Caffè Quadri, “Venetian ladies flock during the winter, and especially around Carnival”, “the are old middlemen and rococo people, and a man with glasses on his nose sitting between them at all times, dressed in an original style […], a walking stick like Radetzky between his knees.”
All of this is gone now. Or perhaps not. Let’s try to figure it out over coffee.