Caffé Florian vies with the Caffé Procope in Paris for the title of oldest café in Europe and it is certainly one of the richest in terms of its history and clientele. It opened its doors on 29 December 1720 during the first week of the Carnival under the name of “Alla Venezia Trionfante” (To the Triumphant Venice) but it soon became known simply as Caffé Florian after its original owner Floriano Francesconi. Early patrons included Carlo Goldoni, Goethe, Casanova and Byron, the last of whom were no doubt attracted by the fact that, for a certain numbers of years at that time, Caffè Florian was the only café with a special license from the Doge to admit women. Later famous patrons included Charles Dickens, Henry James, Marcel Proust and Gabriele D’Annunzio. During the eighteenth century it was one of the few places where Gasparo Gozzi's early newspaper Gazzetta Veneta could be bought and became a meeting place for people from different social classes who would gather to exchange often radical ideas. Later Florian’s was to play an important part in the struggle for independence from Austria in the run-up to the Risorgimento, when the Sala del Senato (Senate Room) became a meeting place for a group of Venetian patriots and it also acted as a temporary hospital for patriots wounded in the uprisings of 1848. Not surprisingly Austrians tended to patronise the Caffé Quadri. In 1858 a series of themed rooms were created including a Chinese Room, an Oriental Room, a Room of Seasons, a Room of the Illustrious Men and a Liberty Room (formerly used as a warehouse and fully restored as a Room at the beginning of the twentieth century). Over the years the café has proved a magnet for artists (Andy Warhol, Jean Cocteau) , film stars (Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Marilyn Munroe) and socialites and it was the place were, in 1893, the then Mayor of the City of Venice with his artists and literary friends discussed and planned an International Art Exhibition now known worldwide as The Biennale. Caffè Florian is also known for its music played in the café-concert style.
Although the Caffé Quadri was not opened until 1775, fifty years after Florians, there had been a café on the present site under the arcade of the Procuratie Vecchie, since 1638, the earlier being known as the café “Rimedio”, (or remedy) because at that time coffee was consumed for medicinal purposes. In 1775 Giorgio Quadri, who had moved to Venice from Corfu, bought the Caffé Rimedio, officially starting the story of the Grancaffé Quadri. In the nineteenth century the café was much frequented by the Austrians, and the American consul William Dean Howells recalled the “glitter of uniforms, and the idling…carried on with a great noise of conversation in Austrian-German”. The café, which opened a famous restaurant in the 1840s, still retains its nineteenth-century atmosphere, but was given a romantic and slightly surreal make-over by Phillipe Stark in 2018. Past guests include Stendhal, Balzac, Woody Allen, Wagner and Proust.