"Il bar," an Italian institution

"Il bar," an Italian institution

Jan 16, 2023Donatella Mulvoni

It is the center of social life, perhaps the most popular and beloved place in every Italian town. Almost all Italians go to their "local watering hole" at least once a day for the coffee ritual or for aperitiv.

Italian bars, the vibrant center of social life

Let us begin by pointing out that the word "bar" in Italy has a much broader meaning than in the US. Italian bars are very different from American bars. It is more like a "café." You may visit your favorite bar a couple of times a day: in the morning for coffee and in the early evening for aperitivo. Today in Italy, there are nearly 150,000 bars (precisely 149,154 according to data from FIPE, Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi). They serve an average of 175 cups of espresso daily.

Bar, an exciting and vibrant hybrid

It is a symbol of Italian culture. Italy has created a tradition that has become typically Italian over time. In fact, in Italy, the "bar" has an extensive range of offerings. First of all, Italian bars are a hybrid between a coffee shop, a deli, and a bar. You can buy coffee, wine, drinks, soft drinks, pastries, sweets, candies, gelato, small bites, mini pizzas, and panini (the famous Italian sandwich). You could also find cigarettes, bus or parking tickets. 

Andiamo al bar!

It is one of the main points of gathering, meeting, and entertainment. It is not unusual-especially in working-class neighborhoods or small towns to encounter people reading the newspaper, playing cards, or watching soccer games (very loudly!). Another interesting thing is that bars in Italy are often family places. There are no age restrictions, and children are allowed. In the past, bars also had the famous "biliardino," the foosball table. They are very rare now but in years gone by, they were one of the preferred pastimes for young people but also for adults. In 1983 Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, seemed to fall in love with the Italian-style bar on his first Italian trip. When he arrived in Milan, he was fascinated by the atmosphere, the sense of community, and the genuine connection between the baristas and the customers he found in Italian bars. 

Italy's oldest bar

The Florian in Venice is Italy's oldest historic café and is located in the world-famous Piazza San Marco. It opened in 1720 in one of the most enchanting cities in the world and over the years, has welcomed such illustrious guests as Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Goethe, and Marcel Proust. It seems that Biennale, the renowned art exhibition, was envisioned within the café's walls. The Florian in Venice would be followed by the Pedrocchi in Padua (1722), the Gilli in Florence (1733), and the Greco in Rome (1760).

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