The Cafès of Trieste

This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. by Enrico Massetti. Get the ebook for the complete content.

The first Coffee shops were opened in Trieste during the second half of the eighteenth century, probably following the example of many fashionable places in Venice, but they immediately took on an unmistakable Viennese connotation in their interior decorations and in the services they offered. In 1768 in contrada Bottari, now via San Nicolo’, Benedetto Capano was granted the exclusive sale of “hot and cold waters, tea, coffee, chocolate, lemonades, sherbets and syrup water”. From then on the Coffee Shops multiplied in number in Trieste which had in the meantime become a Middle European emporium. As time went by, the cosmopolitan spirit of the city proposed very differing characteristics, with distinctly political cafe’, cafe’s for Austrian officers and top executives, the bourgeoisie cafe’, the businessmen’s cafe’, and increasingly numerous were the literary cafe’, where James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba used to go.

Nowadays, around the coffee tables of the most historical Trieste cafe’, we find students studying, elderly ladies sipping their coffee, university students writing their lecture notes and obviously tourists who are immediately bewitched by the slow and relaxed rhythm surrounding them.

In an ideal itinerary we will walk past the cafe’ called TommaseoCaffè degli SpecchiTergesteoStella PolareTorinese, ’UrbanisPirona and the Ancient Caffè San Marco. These cafe’ are all able to evoke more than one century of the city’s history through events that tell us about culture, invasions, literature and freedom , but that at the same time are perfectly set within the framework of the XXI century and just like one hundred years ago they are well tuned in to their clients’ needs and wishes.

Located in what was once called Trieste’s piazza dei Negozianti (the Shopkeepers’ Square), the Caffè Tommaseo was founded in 1830 by Tommaso Marcato coming from Padua. The cafe’ immediately became a privileged meeting place for artists, businessmen and politicians; in 1848 it was renamed in honor of the writer and patriot from Dalmatia, Tommaseo.

Famous for having introduced in Trieste at the beginning of the century, the novelty of ice-cream, the cafe’ Tommaseo is a bright, sophisticated and elegant place: the mirrors, which were brought directly from Belgium about one hundred years ago, the chairs made in bent wood and the decorations, which are the work of the painter from Trieste Giuseppe Gatteri, all stand out distinctively.

The Caffè degli Specchi, was opened in 1839, founded and managed by the Grecian Nicolo’ Priovolo. The cafe’ was first on the ground floor of Palazzo Stratti, in that same Piazza Grande (which became Piazza dell’Unita’ d’Italia in 1918) that continues to represent the heart of the city. Thanks to this special position, the Caffe’ degli Specchi immediately became a privileged place where to follow all the historical, political, economic and cultural happenings of the city of Trieste.

Over the years the Caffè degli Specchi was managed by many different owners and it underwent great changes: in the period following the Second World War, for instance, the cafe’ was requisitioned by the Anglo-American allied forces, and it was then that the Royal Navy emblems were placed inside. www.caffespecchi.it

Founded in 1863, the Caffè Tergesteo was for many years located in front of Trieste’s historical theatre Teatro Verdi, with its characteristic outdoor coffee tables.

Today it is situated inside the gallery bearing the same name, which leads from Piazza Verdi to Piazza della Borsa, and it has preserved its characteristic of being a place for meetings and encounters, and it is here that businessmen from the nearby Stock Exchange meet during the daytime and the cultural elite in Trieste in the evening . The history of the city is represented on the coloured window panes and Umberto Saba dedicated a lyric in his Canzoniere to this cafe’.

The Caffè Stella Polare is situated in the heart of Trieste’s Teresiano borough, next to the Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridione and very close to Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Sant’Antonio.

It started as a typical Austrian-Hungarian cafe’, with the classical decorations of stuccoes and mirrors which are still partly present and for years the place was a refuge for shopkeepers and intellectuals coming from Trieste and abroad; with the end of the Second World War and the arrival in the city of the Anglo-Americans, this cafe’ became a famous ballroom: from here many young women from Trieste sailed for the United States, happy wives of young American soldiers.

The Bar Torinese is situated in Corso Italia and dates back to 1919; the furniture is the work of the ebony craftsman from Trieste Debelli, and it reminds you of the interiors of a transatlantic ship.

The small and cosy Bar ex Urbanis came to life from the ashes of a pastry shop in the first half of the nineteenth century and it is made precious by a mosaic floor which bears the date of its foundation:1832.

Opened in 1914, the Caffè San Marco immediately became a meeting place for newspaper readers and a laboratory for the production of fake passports, which were allegedly needed by anti-Austrian patriots to flee from Italy.

It was completely destroyed by the Austrians during the war, but rebuilt to become, in the twenties, a meeting place for many intellectuals from Trieste, among whom Saba and Svevo. The interior proposes the typical atmosphere of the Viennese cafe’: the engraved wooden counter, the nudes painted on the medallions on the walls, the obsessive repetition of coffee leaves on the decorations, the marble tables with their cast iron legs, the mirrors and the original frescoes.

The most regular patron of the Caffè Pasticceria Pirona was James Joyce, who actually devised his “Ulysses” masterpiece here, while tasting an Austrian pastry and sipping a glass of high quality vintage wine; in this famous pastry shop the visitor can taste sophisticated cakes and specialties from Trieste, and the original furnishing of the time has been preserved.

Where to stay in Trieste

There are high quality hotels, apartments, condo hotels and B&Bs available, check them out and make a reservation here.


This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. Get the ebook for the complete content.