The restaurant opened in 1822 with the name Caffè di Piazza d’Armi, since the homonymous square performed that function until 1817. It soon became one of the most famous haunts of intellectuals and patriots of the whole season of the Risorgimento, as opposed to the more conservatives such as Fiorio. For this reason it was closed several times by the city authorities for suspected subversive activity by the reformist patriots who used to frequent it.
In 1837 it underwent a first renovation led by the architect Leoni and the complex decorative apparatus that characterizes it was built and reopened under new management with the name of Caffè Vassallo. Between 1839 and 1840 the pictorial decorations of the central hall were completed by Rodolfo Morgari and del Borra. In 1851 the smaller room known as the “Chinese Cabinet” was inaugurated, decorated by the masters Pietro Spintz and Giacomo Beltrami according to the exotic taste of the time. The fame of an intellectual salon grew and became one of the most popular cafés by university professors, journalists, politicians, artists and writers who were exponents of the contemporary scapigliatura current. Among the illustrious guests of the café were Giovanni Giolitti, Francesco Crispi, Alexandre Dumas (son), Antonio Gramsci and Admiral Cagni who, together with Luigi Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta, Duca degli Abruzzi, in 1899 designed the expedition to Antarctica with the Polar Star ship.
During the twentieth century the place took the name of Caffè San Carlo, also becoming the first place in Europe to be illuminated by gas lamps and continued to be a regular reference for various personalities including Benedetto Croce, Edmondo De Amicis, Luigi Einaudi , Piero Gobetti, Francesco Pastonchi and also by great exponents of painting such as Felice Casorati and the group of the Six of Turin.
During the Second World War the building that housed the restaurant suffered serious damage and the Caffè San Carlo was closed from 1953 to 1963 for a long restoration work that returned some frescoes on the ceiling that had been lost in the bombings and the recovery of the stuccos. original capitals and side panels.
Since then, the Caffè San Carlo, despite changing management several times, has returned to being one of the most popular cafes in Turin and is included in the list of Historic Places in Italy.