Europe and its Cafés
Cafés buzz with life, fostering artistic creation and debate; they are where we meet friends, and make friends. We share this culture with all Europeans.
It was in these cafés that the greatest European literary, cultural and artistic movements were born. It was also where the major political movements, resistances and schools of thoughts were developed.
“Draw the coffee-house map and you have one of the essential markers of the ‘idea of Europe’”
George Steiner, philosopher and literary critic (1929-2020)
Such names as Maximilian Bern, Fritz Stahl, Else Lasker-Schüler and Max Reinhardt were among the customers in this literary café.
It was immortalized by the expressionist George Grosz in his painting The Lovesick Man, where the artists is shown with his elbow propped on a table in the café.
In 1932, the famous institution was renamed Kranzler, after its owner Johann Georg Kranzler, a Viennese confectioner.
The café was destroyed during the war, and reappeared with a new architecture in 1951, followed by a complete transformation in the late 1950s. The structure has two floors topped with a rotunda, which features a red-and-white striped canopy, and reopened its doors in 1958, becoming a symbol of West Berlin. In 2016 it was renamed The Barn Café Kranzler.
Café Central opened in 1876. It is far from the oldest coffee-house in the capital, but at the end of the 19th century it was famous for being a meeting point for Vienna’s intelligentsia. Regular customers included Peter Altenberg, who used the café as his personal address, Alfred Adler, Egon Friedell, Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig and, before World War I, Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotski.
No less than 250 newspapers in 22 different languages were available at the café at the time.
It was known as Die Schachhochschule (“chess school”) until 1938, because of the many players who dropped in. The Vienna Circle of logical positivism held its meetings there before and after the Great War.
Its doors closed at the end of World War II, not to reopen again until 1975. It remained within the Palais Ferstel, and today it is a very popular tourist destination.
La Fleur en papier doré is one of the most famous estaminets (traditional taverns) in Brussels. The etymology of the word “estaminet” is uncertain. Some give it a Flemish origin, “stamenay”, from the word for family (stamm), or from the publican’s cries to passers-by “Sta Menheer” (“Stop in, Sir!”). Others give it a Walloon origin, as “le stamine” was a “room with pillars”. Another theory would be its derivation from “étamine” (muslin), a type of fabric used to cover tables.
At La Fleur en papier doré, the great names of twentieth-century Belgian surrealism met – including René Magritte and Louis Scutenaire. It was also the favourite bistrot of the CoBrA movement, as Pierre Alechinsky and Hugo Claus were regulars there.
The café became a listed historic building in 1997, and it continues to be a meeting place for artists and literary figures. In May 2011, the inner courtyard was decorated with a comic strip fresco created by the cartoonists De Marck and De Wulf (Stam et Pilou).
Bulgaria’s coffeehouses live short lives! The grand pre-war cafés, where intellectuals and artists would meet, no longer exist. The iconic places of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the Bambouka, near the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the writers’ club on Angel Kanchev street, or the journalists’ club on Graf Ignatiev street, closed one by one after the fall of the communist regime in the 1990s.
Today, Peroto (“the feather”), a café located inside the National Palace of Culture (NKK), is dedicated to books and writers, hosting discussions, talks and literary events that attract a large audience every month.
Tria Fanaria (the three lanterns) is the oldest running café and pastry shop in Nicosia. Located inside the Venitian Walls of the old city, it looks onto Faneromeni Square, its school built in the neoclassical style, the Greek Orthodox church and the small Arablar mosque, evidence of the many historic influences on the island, between Europe and the Middle East.
In 1952, Savvas and Maroula Lemonaris bought an old café and began selling pastries, for which it is famous today. The café was then taken over by their children and grandchildren, carrying on its tradition.
Tria Fanaria has witnessed major events in the recent history of Cyprus, including the anticolonial movement (even serving as a weapons cache), independance from the United Kingdom in 1960, the intercommuncal violence of 1963 and 1964, the Turkish invasion of 1974, the opening of crossing points in 2003 and its accession to the European Union in 2004.
Decorated in the style of the carriages of the famous Orient Express train, which travelled from London to Istanbul via Zagreb, the café of the same name quickly became one of the main hubs bringing together actors, singers and famous journalists. It is a member of the European Historic Cafés Association.
Original items from the Orient Express feature in the decor, such as the bronze panels warning travellers not to lean out, and letters indicating compartments.
The café is also one of the initiators in Zagreb of the French Voisins (“neighbours”) project, supported by the Institut Français, aiming to promote exchanges between citizens of all ages living on the same street, in the same neighbourhood or the same city, and build a culture of co-existence, non-discrimination and tolerance.
The city’s intellectual tradition is not as closely linked to coffeehouse meeting-places as it is to the intellectual life around the University of Copenhagen and the publishers’ bookshops that have flourished there since the 17th century. One of these very old publishing houses, Gyldendal, still exists today, the oldest in Europe.
Paludan is another publishing house with a bookshop, and it opened the Paludan café in 1987, making it one of the oldest in the city.
Paludan book café remains true to the student traditions of the old town, and is a place where student like to come and study, where they are provided with food for the body and for the soul. European literature and thought seep into café conversations from the well-stocked shelves of the bookshop below.
Founded in 1887 on the Glorieta de Bilbao roundabout in the heart of the modern, bourgeois neighbourhoods inspired by French Haussmannian architecture, the Café Comercial very quickly became the beating heart of Madrid’s intellectual scene, and a place for musical encounters. Poet Antonio Machado, one of the figureheads of the Generation of 1898 literary movement, set up shop in the café, regularly hosting tertulias (“debates”.) It also lays claim to being the first café in Spain to employ women as waitresses.
During the civil war, employees kept the café open, managing it themselves. It continued to be a popular spot after the victory of Franco.
The Tallinn café, Maiasmokk, could be translated by “lover of sweet things” or “sweet tooth”, and is the oldest running café in the Estonian capital. Its history dates back to 1806, when the baker Lorenz Cavietzel bought the property on which the café is currently located. In 1864, the property was bought and refurbished by the Baltic German confectioner, Georg Stude, who opened a café on the premises.
In the late 19th century, the café became famous for its production of marzipan, a paste made from blanched and finely ground almonds. The Russian imperial family itself was supplied by Maiasmokk.
In the early 20th century, before World War I, the café received several prizes. In 1941, it was nationalized, but remained open during the Soviet occupation of Estonia. In 2006, the Estonian postal service created a stamp to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the café. In 2010, Maiasmokk was bought by a famous Estonian chocolate maker.
Kappeli café is located right in the city centre of Helsinki, on the large Esplanadi avenue. Opened in 1840, the first wooden building was renamed Kappeli (“the chapel”) due to its resemblance to a church. The café quickly became a central meeting point in the heart of the city, known for its cold beer and musicians.
Artists met there and decorated the building as a thank you for the friendly welcome given to them by the café’s owner.
In the 1920s, during the prohibition period that Finland experienced, alcohol was served secretly in the basement.
Renovated in the 1970s, Kappeli is still a popular meeting place, and stays open until the small hours.
In the 1930s, it was frequented by all of Paris’ literary circles and by the end of the war it had become the epicentre of the Parisian intelligentsia. From Guillaume Apollinaire to Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso, generations of writers and artists from all over the world have sat at its tables.
Its heyday was in the 1950s when Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre made it the hub of existentialist debates.
However, Café de Flore didn’t only attract writers; it was also a favourite spot of iconic names in French cinema, such as Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo. It was no stranger to the world of fashion, either, with regular customers such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Bergé and Karl Lagerfeld.
De Facto café, which opened in 1983 on Diagonio, in the city centre, is a favourite among academics, writers, artists and actors from Thessaloniki, as well as from Athens and elsewhere. It is also a lively spot for the city’s young people, who flock there for its quality music offering.
It is one of the rare cafés here to have survived the economic crisis of the 2010s.
The story behind its name, De Facto, apparently comes from the divergence in opinion of the first three managers, who eventually agreed on this Latin expression.
Founded in 1720, Caffè Florian, located on St Mark’s Square in Venice, is one of Italy’s most famous cafés. Originally named A la Venezia Trionfante, it was given the name Florian by its customers, in tribute to its founder and owner, Floriano Francesconi.
Here, many famous names were regulars in what is considered one of the oldest coffee houses in Europe. Over the years, it was frequented by great European writers. These include Goethe, Honoré de Balzac, Alfred de Musset, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, George Sand, Marcel Proust, to name a few.
The Sala degli Uomini Illustri (Hall of the Illustrious Men) features portraits of famous Venitian figures: Carlo Goldoni, Titian, Marco Polo, and Andrea Palladio.
From the beginning of the 20th century, it started the tradition of live entertainment in cafés. From 1908 to 1911, it hosted the French dandy group, the “Club des Longues Moustaches”, led by Henri de Régnier with other writers.
On the corner of the Barona and Lāčplēša streets in Riga, the eye of Osiris keeps watch over the entrance of this legendary café. Inaugurated in 1994, this hotspot of Latvian cultural life welcomes intellectuals, artists and local residents.
Its postmodern interiors were decorated by Dace Zeltina and Varis Dzērve, using green and black colours.
The inhabitants of Riga meet there for debates on art, culture and social life, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
While the focus is on the coffee, newspapers and good music, the catchphrase written on the walls inside the café since its beginnings is: “Aut bibat, aut abeat” (Drink with us or leave).
Separated from the old town by the Vilia river – which explains its name (užupis means “beyond the river”) – this old working-class neighbourhood flourished with innovative creation in the 1990s, and many exhibitions, artistic performances and pop-up creations took place there.
Come hail, rain or shine, people meet at Spunka to set the world to rights and embrace the iconoclastic, creative spirit that is the hallmark of this emblematic district of Lithuania’s capital.
Located opposite the Grand Ducal Palace and the Chamber of Deputies, the Bistrot de la presse is the perfect spot for journalists and political figures.
The walls of this unusual café are papered with photos of the Grand Ducal Family.
It is still managed by the descendants of its founder, Cesare Cordina, who sold products from his native Sicily door-to-door with a horse and cart before opening his first little café in Birgu in 1837. Cesare Cordina was the friend of the famous painter Giuseppe Cali, whose works depict the various European influences and occupations of the island: the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Knights Hospitaller from all over Europe, the French under Napoleon, and the British until 1964. These paintings now decorate the ceilings of Caffe Cordina.
More recently, Malta’s accession to the European Union in 2004 was illustrated on the grand tympanum above the main entrance.
Founded in 1908, this “brown café” (the name given to Amsterdam’s typical cafés, due to their traditional brown wooden decor and their walls yellowed by centuries of tobacco smoke) has long been a journalists’ favourite in Amsterdam.
The Dutch writer Annie M.G. Schmidt, Max Nord, Simon Carmiggelt and many other famous journalists would meet at the Scheltema, their unofficial headquarters.
Before World War II, the café attracted journalists from the daily papers Algemeen Handelsblad (AD), De Telegraaf, Het Nieuws van de Dag, Het Volk, De Standaard and De Tijd. After the war, a new generation of journalists from the main Dutch media Het Parool, De Volkskrant, Trouw, De Waarheid, De Groene Amsterdammer and Elsevier also frequented the café.
In December 2017, Scheltema received the Jubilee Medal from the city of Amsterdam.
The literary café Jama Michalika is one of Krakow’s oldest. Opened in 1895 by Jan Apolinary Michalik, the café, which has a single room, was nicknamed Jama Michalika because of its lack of windows (jama means “cave” in Polish).
It quickly became a popular haunt for the city’s students and artists, who greatly contributed to its art nouveau style of decoration (paintings, caricatures on the walls, stained glass, etc.).
Here, customers could openly mock the Krakow bourgeoisie and the Austro-Hungarian imperial censorship. It has close ties with Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, a man of letters and a doctor, known for his modern thought. A lover of Paris and the French language, he translated Proust, Montaigne, Stendhal and Molière into Polish, and in 1934 he received the Croix de Commandeur of the Légion d’Honneur. The Franco-Polish publication assistance programme is named after him.
It was founded in 1905 by Adriano Teles. This man of culture and grandfather of filmmaker Luis Galvão Teles sold Brazilian coffee there from its opening, as he had lived in Brazil.
The establishment was a hotspot of Lisbon’s cultural and intellectual life in the early 20th century. Many artists and intellectuals spent long hours talking of poetry, painting and literature, and held their artistic gatherings, known as tertulias, there. Since 1980, a bronze statue celebrates the most famous of its regulars, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.
The elegant façade continues to draw in customers, along with its Art Deco interior, a harmonious blend of marble and wood, decorated with mirrors and paintings by famous Portuguese artists.
Kavárna Slavia, or Cafe Slavia, was founded in 1884, and kindled the flames of Czech nationalism. In the first half of the 20th century, it became the coffee house for artists, actors and authors. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote several scenes of his Two Stories of Prague, King Bohush, here. At the time, students could receive newspapers from all over Europe, and rubbed shoulders with Franz Kafka, Guillaume Apollinaire and Jaroslav Seifert.
Under the communist regime, Kavárna Slavia became the hub of clandestine resistance against totalitarianism. It was the favourite café of Václav Havel, writer and future president. It was also just in front of the windows of the café that the first protesters of the Velvet Revolution marched, in 1989.
On 9 May, “Europe Day” is an opportunity for intellectuals and artists to show their European commitment. On this day in 2006, Václav Havel made a passionate plea for Europe and the European way of life that the café tradition incarnates.
It belonged to the famous pastry chef Grigore Capșa, a former student of the Maison Boissier confectionery in Paris. Frequented by the political and intellectual elite of the time, Casa Capșa received the Grande Médaille at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873.
Casa Capșa became famous for creating its chocolate cake entitled “Joffre”, in honour of the French Marshal Joseph Joffre.
Having become a popular meeting spot for figures in the political, artistic, cultural and journalism worlds, Casa Capșa offered the scent of the West, helping local palates become familiar with chocolate, ganache and sweets, as opposed to the previously popular Middle-Eastern delights of baklava and sarailie.
This art nouveau establishment, acquired in 1904 by Bela I. Hackenberger, became one of the most popular coffee houses in Presbourg (modern-day Bratislava) among artists, writers, students and intellectuals, such as Pavol Horov, Ján Smrek, Jožo Nižnánsky (the Dumas of Slovakian literature) and the writer and journalist Emil Bohuň. Gypsy music also played a part in the café’s fame.
After the liberation of Bratislava, in April 1945, Štefánka was shut down, and its owner deported to a transit camp in Petržalka. Without its original owners, the café somewhat lost its soul and charm in the post-war years, but it continues to be a popular choice for the Bratislava intelligentsia.
Kavarna, located in the Grand Hotel Union, is an iconic café of Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. A masterpiece of Slovenian art nouveau, inspired by the Vienna Secession, it opened its doors in 1905. Its etched glass windows and floral motifs on the façade are evidence of the creativity and elegance of this golden age.
Since its opening, it has welcomed many celebrities. The impressionist painter, Rihard Jakopič, illustrator Hinko Smrekar, writers Ivan Cankar and Ivan Tavčar and poet Oton Župančič have all passed through its doors.
Today it is a very popular café, where Ljubljana’s customers of all ages stop by to enjoy its potica, a typical Slovenian walnut cake, or watch a play on the café stage.
The Vete-Katten café was founded in 1928 by Ester Nordhammar. Although Swedish women won the right to vote in 1919 (they could vote in local elections since 1862), few businesses were run by women at the time. At the age of 42, Ester Nordhammar had the great idea of opening a simple, almost austere pastry shop (“decorated like a presbytery”), with quality bread and cakes.
Notably, she decided from the beginning that she would only hire young women - a remarkable decision for the time. It was not until after Ester’s death in 1961 that the first man was hired at the Vete-Katten. Upon her death, Ester left the pastry shop to four of her employees. Today still, the Vete-Katten is one of the most famous cafés in Sweden.