Florence is a magical city. The moment I stepped off the train, I could feel it in my bones that I would fall in love with the beauty hidden in the streets of Florence. I will be honest; I am writing these words with a bit of a broken heart and disappointment as I lost my notebook that carried the entries on the cafés of Venice, and I have to re-work those comments and feelings through the photos that I took there and through my memory. My disappointment does not stem from having to re-write all those pages, but it comes from the fear that I might not find the exact same words to describe what I felt at those cafés.
Anyway, I’m at Caffè Gilli in Florence, and it’s a new day.
Gilli, opened in 1733, welcomed me with a very different feeling than I expected. It is as classy and old as I thought, but it also adapted really well to the every-day café culture that type II café-goers (those who only want to get a cup of coffee and are not interested in the café itself) seek out. There are several doors on the front side that one could enter the café from, and you are not met with the same formal greeting that one would expect at cafés like Gilli, Florian, and Greco. If you’re in for the formal, first-class-Titanic-like service and wish to be greeted like Charles Dickens at novel conventions, do not be upset! Once you get inside and ask to be shown a seat, which you don’t have to, a waiter in a neat white suit-top will accompany you to your table like an older brother accompanies his two-year-old sister to her poopy-station. I am one of those pretentious café-goers that want to feel more like a 1920s’ artsy Parisienne -which I’m aware is a term used to describe only women from Paris- than the average college student that I am, so in fancy places, I do ask to be directed to a table. The tables, as one might expect, are natural-colored marble with a layer of wooden support and a three-legged iron stand. They salute elegantly the crème-colored walls with a hint of white strips going up and down every few meters.
By the side door hang numerous pictures of the streets surrounding Gilli from several decades ago. As I look at all these pictures with my camera in my hand, I can’t help but feel the connection that the workers and possibly the city of Florence itself have with Gilli, and it is clear from the crowd and the smiling faces of the employees that the whole community is determined to further protect the famous Gilli against the test of time.
The lighting inside Caffe Gilli is as good as it gets inside four walls. There’s natural sunlight streaming in through the big windows on the southern side overlooking Piazza della Repubblica. Moreover, the three-armed, glass wall lights and the gigantic, 12-armed, octopus-like chandeliers do more than their fair share of brightening the wooden walls and reflecting their lights on the glass vases with maroon, yellow, pink, and red flowers in them.
You might guess what prices are like at cafés that are literally a whole middle-aged-man older than the United States of America. BUT, don’t you worry! Caffe Gilli is surprisingly not as expensive as the rest of its competitors in other cities like Roma and Venice. Still, a cup of cappuccino costs 4.50 Euros, but that’s as cheap as it will get at the one of the classiest cafés in Western Europe. And keep in mind that this is the price that I pay if I choose to sit as in Italy, prices might differ depending on the kind of service you require from the café. Finally, if you wish to enjoy the modern noise and energy of Florence instead of losing yourself in the history of Gilli inside the café, you could choose to take advantage of their seating area outside, which has a more average look to them with plastic chairs and metal tables.
Overall, Gilli seems to be the most well-adapted among its generation of cafés in Italy so far. It provides you with the historical elegancy and richness while still allowing you to be your own 21st-century, busy city-person.
Take Care, and Treat Coffee like a Friend.
Alp E. Türkol