Antico Caffè San Marco (TS)
The most authentic literary café in Trieste, with a story worthy of a film script, elected among the 50 best cafes in the world by The Telegraph and among the 10 most beautiful bookstores by Les Echos.
If Trieste is famous for its coffee, the great writers of the twentieth century and its cosmopolitan history, then the Caffè San Marco is its most fascinating showcase. His story begins in 1914, in a building owned by Assicurazioni Generali, where Marco Lovrinovich, a native of Poreč, decides to open his first café.
Passionate irredentist and admirer of the history of the Serenissima, he acquiesced to the then Austrian government (the city was officially re-annexed to Italy only in 1954) by creating a Viennese Art Nouveau-style café with its characteristic stuccos and golden brass lamps. But it is the details of the decor, still completely original today, that reveal the great love for Venice: from the name of its patron, to the legs of the cast iron tables in the shape of a lion’s paw, up to the decorations with Venetian carnival masks and images of nudes, allegory of the 43 rivers that flow into the Adriatic, the sea of Venice.
Variety triumphs at San Marco, vital and sanguine. Old long-time captains, students preparing exams and studying amorous maneuvers, chess players who are insensitive to what is happening around them, tourists…
(Claudio Magris, Microcosmi, Premio Strega 1997)
Right from the start, the place became a meeting place not only for students and intellectuals, but also for young anti-Austrian patriots, so much so that false passports were manufactured in the back to allow them to escape to Italy. When the political situation worsened with the beginning of the First World War and the declaration of war on Austria, in May 1915 the San Marco was destroyed by soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army.
Dark years followed and abandonment until, after the Second World War thanks to Assicurazioni Generali, the conservative restoration of the building began, followed by various managements. Over the years, the Caffè hold steady its reputation as a literary salon, famous for its illustrious visitors: from Italo Svevo to Umberto Saba, from James Joyce to Claudio Magris.
In 2013 the turning point: the old management decided to leave and the entrepreneur Alexandros Delithanassis, born in Trieste from a Greek family, already in the business of publishing, took up the challenge of returning the San Marco to its former glory. He succeeds so well that today he has not only elected the literary café as the protagonist of the artistic life of Trieste, but has also given life to a unique concept in Italy which has seen the opening, with direct management within it, of a bookshop, a restaurant and a pastry shop.
The cultural hub, open all day, regularly hosts events, book presentations and concerts, having become also a reference point for the local food and wine scene thanks to a refined cuisine and a wine cellar well-stocked with the most important labels of Friuli Venezia Giulia and neighboring countries.
By choice, just the raw material is processed in the kitchen, without using any already processed food, and everything is homemade, from pasta to desserts, giving life to dishes that celebrate local tradition with Balkan incursions; such as the asparagus flan with feta cream, broad beans and hazelnuts, the potato gnocchi with muslins of the gulf of Trieste or spider crab source, and the veal cheek with potato and chicory cream.
And, of course, the coffee is also “homemade”, purchased raw and then processed by the renowned Sandalj Trading Company, giving life to a tasty blend of Arabica and Robusta mocha under the Caffè San Marco brand.
The ritual is a must: choose a secluded table, open your favorite newspaper, and order in the Trieste style a capo in bi (macchiato coffee served in a glass) with a slice of Sachertorte. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, to stop time and spoil ourselves.
In 1914, the decorations of the coffee leaves on the ceilings were green, the beans red and the bands around them white, symbolizing the Italian tricolor flag. To keep costs down, during the restoration in the 1930s, the more elegant bronze color was opted for, which still persists today.
Antico Caffè San Marco
Via Cesare Battisti 18
Tel. +39 040 2035373
First courses: 12 — 16 euro
Second courses: 12 — 18 euro
Desserts: from 4 euro