Situated on the sunniest corner of Piazza San Marco,
at the foot of the Clock Tower, in front of the Basilica, the Caffé Lavena has been one of Venice’s most renowned coffee boutiques since 1750.
The Caffé Lavena is a meeting place for illustrious Venetian guests and tourists, and has always actively participated in the cultural life of Venice, experiencing the most important historical events in the city during the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally the Café was called Regina d'Ungheria (the Queen of Hungary), when Venice was subject to the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it was later named Orso Coronato (the Crowned Bear), due to the picturesque sign depicting a bear with a crown on its head, standing on its hind legs. At that time, the Venetians called it Caffè dei Foresti (the Foreigners' Café), because it was frequented by a mainly international clientele and was the meeting place in the Square for anyone who did not know how to orient themselves among the Venetian calli (i.e. alleys). For this reason, the codegas, gondoliers, dry land porters and those who guaranteed transportation in the city, especially in the evenings, stationed themselves outside the café. They accompanied the foreign clients of the Lavena to their homes, through the dark meanderings of the Venetian canals, by the light of their typical hand-held lanterns. The codegas, in effect, may be considered the first tourist guides with an international clientele in the city.
But it was Carlo Lavena, who bought the café in 1860, that gave prestige to this "coffee boutique". He changed the name of the business, but was wise enough to preserve the architecture and refined furnishings of previous ages. Thanks to his personality and culture, a wide circle of artists and musicians were attracted to the Café, including the great Richard Wagner. Additionally, thanks to his fame as a baker, he made the Café famous even abroad, exporting his sweets throughout Europe.
The antique eighteenth century mirrors, which have been miraculously handed down to our own day, evoke the important past of the Café.
The glass chandelier, a masterpiece of the artist glassblowers of Murano Barovier andToso, dominates the centre of the lodge. The characteristic that makes it unique is the grandiose decoration with Moor heads, which is reminiscent of Venice's cosmopolitan vocation during the period of he Serenissima Republic, a meeting place for peoples from all over the world.
On the upper floor, which is lined in characteristic eighteenth century wooden panels, lacquered with pure gold borders of the age and decorated with Venetian blown glass wall lamps in the same design as the majestic chandelier, guests may enjoy a privileged vantage point from which to admire the pulsating heart of Venice, through the windows that face the centre of St. Mark's Square.