Gran Caffè Quadri is one of the few places in the world that has maintained its timeless allure throughout the centuries. When inside the historic dining and sitting rooms, looking out onto St. Mark’s Square, you can feel the ambiance of Venice’s first cafes, which changed European social customs during the twilight of the Venetian Republic and the beginning of the modern age.
The history of the establishment dates back to May 28, 1775 when Giorgio Quadri, a Levantine from Corfu, arrived in Venice in search of fortune. In the then cosmopolitan Venice, it was fashionable to drink coffee and there were already 208 coffeehouses operating in the city, 34 of which were located in St. Mark’s Square. Based on the suggestion of his spirited wife Naxina, Giorgio invested their family assets in a popular Venetian wine bar, known as Il Remedio (The Remedy) because it served Malvasia wine, believed to enliven both the body and spirit.
The Quadri’s converted the bar into a coffeehouse and introduced Turkish coffee to the city. Caffè Quadri was an instant success, thanks to the novelty of the way in which the coffee was prepared, as well as the diversity of its clientele, which included both locals and visitors to the city.
In 1830, Caffè Quadri was purchased by the Vaerini brothers, who restored the café and added a restaurant upstairs, the only one still in existence in St. Mark’s Square. Centuries later, the Alajmo family took over the establishment with a goal similar to that of the Vaerini brothers: to restore the allure to this historic hangout while improving the quality of the dining experience.
The rooms on the ground floor were beautifully decorated with stuccowork in shades of pastel green and yellow, providing the perfect backdrop for Giuseppe Ponga’s landscapes of Venice and Pietro Longhi’s bright paintings of daily life in the city, which recall those of Tiepolo.
Over the centuries, the world has changed, but not Venice. Both Gran Caffè and Ristorante Quadri have remained an elegant, yet welcoming place to relax over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a leisurely meal. The list of famous guests who have spent time here include Stendhal who visited the café while in Venice for a concert given by tenor Gianbattista Velluti, Alexandre Dumas who was in town for the performance of “The Lady of the Camellias,” adapted by Giuseppe Verdi, and Marcel Proust who was recorded by Gino Damerini for “trying to relieve himself of the pain of his chronic asthma in the afternoon sun of Caffè Quadri.” The café was also the meeting place for Pio Semeghini, Arturo Martini and Gino Rossi, artists who founded the Dissidenti di Ca’ Pesaro. More recent celebrity sightings include those of politicians like Gorbachev and Mitterand, as well as film personalities Robert de Niro, Woody Allen, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
With the passage of time, the old warehouse became lodgings, an inn, a guest house and then a hotel with an amazing Cafe, currently among the Historical Places of Italy and the European Historic Cafés, appreciated by at least a couple of centuries by travelers around the world and by writers such as the French André Suarés and Philippe Sollers and John Ruskin, who made it his home in the spring of 1877.
Mentioned in the writing of Buisine and other artists of the twentieth century, the guest house and its cafe, overlooking the Giudecca Canal, have attracted poets, artists, and writers such as the Istrian Bortolo Giannelli, the painter Bice Volpi, Giuseppe Berto and Francesco Maria Piave, famous librettist of the works of Giuseppe Verdi, to this part of Venice.
Many prestigious guests are regular visitors to La Calcina, including the renowned singer and actress Ornella Vanoni, Professor Carlo Rubbia, 1984 Nobel Prize for physics, and Count Filippo Foscari Widmann Rezzonico.