From 1750 Caffè Lavena in St Mark’s Square is a meeting place for intellectuals and artists
Caffè Lavena has always been a place where artists and travellers gather: Wagner composed his music on the upper floor, D’Annunzio and Hemingway sat at the tables in St Mark’s Square. The Venetians love having a coffee at the counter with the gondoliers and meeting friends during the time of the spritz, while the orchestra is playing Morricone, Piazzolla, Puccini and Strauss.
Starting the day at Caffè Lavena, one of the historic cafés of Piazza San Marco, means reliving the steps of those ambassadors coming from far away countries: everybody that was arriving by sea at the ancient city gate, the Columns of Marco and Todaro (the winged Lion and San Teodoro) would remain dazzled by the magnificence and beauty of the Piazza and the Palazzo Ducale.
And while the sun is making the mosaic tiles of the Basilica of San Marco shine, it is nice to be inside one of the Italian Historical Places, an important piece of Venetian life, opened since 1750, at the base of the San Marco bell tower. It has always been a hub for the Venetian social and cultural life since the time of the Austro-Hungarian domination, loved by artists, intellectuals and travellers, the Caffè was called Caffè dei Foresti for its international clientele.
In 1860 the owner was Carlo Lavena, a cultured and brilliant man who gathered in the Cafe a large circle of artists and musicians, including Richard Wagner, who composed here parts of his Parsifal and the duet of Tristan and Isolde, and loved to take tea with pastries or a cognac in the upper loggia of the Cafe with his wife Cosima, their daughters and his father-in-law Franz Liszt (the table and the original chairs have been preserved until today).
Lavena preserved the original architecture, the period furnishings, the eighteenth-century mirrors and the Murano glass chandelier, masterpiece of the Barovier and Toso glassmakers. The magnificent decoration with dark brown heads that triumphs in the centre of the loggia underlines the cosmopolitan vocation of Venice, while the upper floor, characterized by 18th century panels with pure gold borders of the era, offers a unique view of the centre of San Marco Square.
Many other artists of the time here formed a cultural circle that recalled names such as Arthur Rubinstein Mstislav Rostropovich, Karl Bohm, Franco Corelli, Cecilia Gasdia and Uto Ughi, but also Ugo Foscolo, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Honoré de Balzac, Alberto Moravia, Goffredo Parise and other names of international culture and art. Carlo Lavena boasted a reputation as an excellent pastry chef and made coffee known abroad, exporting his sweets all over Europe.
In the long years of activity the Lavena Cafè maintains a renowned production of artisanal confectionery and ice cream, as well as a wide range of aperitifs and cocktails, now carefully prepared by the barmen A.I.B.E.S. (Associazione Italiana Barman e Sostenitori) Massimo, Alessandro and Diego. It is no coincidence that the Venetians have the habit of going to Lavena for an aperitif or for an after dinner drink.
Photos are by Riccardo Rizzetto, @riccardorizz, for Venezia da Vivere.