Gambrinus: the most popular coffee in Naples. It’s one of the most famous establishments of the peninsula, a member of the cultural historical places of Italy, a literary salon of Naples, a famous art gallery, a leader for the city’s culture. These summarise the café’s traits of excellence that since 1860, makes it one of the most important landmarks in the entire city of Naples.
The history of the Gran Café Gambrinus begins with the Unification of Italy when, in 1860, on the ground floor of the guesthouse – the elegant building of 1816 which now houses the headquarters of the Prefecture – opened the ‘Gran Café’.
Standing directly on Piazza Plebiscito and the Royal Palace, the Café soon became the salon of the good citizen.
The fame due to the work of the best confectioners, ice cream makers and bartenders from all over Europe, procured the immediate approval of the royal family to the Cafè and the recognition by decree of ‘Supplier of the Royal House’, an honor bestowed by the Savoy only to the best suppliers of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
In 1885 the Gran Café seems to be on the verge of closure, but soon its halls would soon be opened to the Neapolitans and travellers in a new greater magnificence. In fact in 1890, Mariano Vacca, luminary and patron of artists and actors, leased the guesthouse’s premises and entrusted its renovation to the architect Antonio Curri, professor of architecture, honorary professor of Institute of Fine Arts and recognised with distinction by Naples University.
Thanks to the expertise of more than forty artisans and artists, the Café became a treasure chest of works of art: the rooms are decorated with marble from Jenny and Fiore, stuccos of Bocchetta, low relieves of Cepparulo and tapestries of Porcelli; the walls are decorated by the most important neapolitan landscape painters.
The Café becomes a precious art gallery in the noble heart of Naples and is enhanced with the latest technology, electric lighting. To celebrate the rebirth, the café is baptized ‘Gran Caffé Gambrinus’ in the name of the legendary king of Flanders and inventor of beer. The intention is to merge the two most popular beverages of Europe: beer, Nordic, pale and cold and the coffee, dark and hot, a typical Neapolitan pleasure.
Officially opened November 3 1890, the Gran Caffé Gambrinus immediately becomes the center of social, cultural and literary life of the city: kings, queens, politicians, journalists, writers and artists of international reputation make it the place to meet, discuss and write verses, as is the best European tradition of literary cafes.
The rooms start to be named by the subject of meetings and symposia held there: Politics Hall, the Hall of Life, the Round Room. The Café is a must for any visit to the city: there is not a traveller who arrived in Naples that decides not to make a stop at the Gran Café Gambrinus.
The historical Neapolitan establishment blossomed during the Belle Epoque; in fact during the years of the early twentieth century it was the center of culture and art of the city; we entertained among the most distinguished guests Empress Sissi of Austria who sipped at a violet ice cream, Gabriele D’Annunzio who wrote in Gambrinus the verses of the famous song ‘A vucchella’, Matilde Serao who founded the newspaper ‘Il Mattino’ sitting right at the café tables Benedetto Croce who made Naples his second city, the Irish writer Oscar Wilde who went to Naples with Lord Alfred Douglas after he served his sentencing in England, Ernest Hemingway, the french philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote thoughts about Naples at the tables of Gambrinus “in front of a Granita that I watched wistfully as it melted in its enamel cup” and many others.
In the late nineteenth century, the French influence spread to Naples and the Café Chantant came.
Along with the Salone Margherita, Gambrinus was one of the busiest establishments to entertain the Neapolitan nobility. Over the course of time, the Neapolitan version of the Café Chantant came to define the shape of ‘sciantosa’ – the main character of the concert. (The terms comes from a corruption of the Neapolitan language of the French word ‘chanteuse’ which literally means ‘singer’).
Gran Caffé Gambrinus prospered until 1938 when martial prefect ordered its closure for being considered an anti-fascist place and from that day some of the premises were transferred to the Banco di Napoli.
The past glories that Gambrinus saw remained only a memory after this split, and the café took a sad road to decline.
In the early seventies Michele Sergio began the battle to recover the rooms of the Café located in the heart of Naples. Thanks to the meticulous work to restore the ancient stuccos and recovery of valuables frescoes, the Gran Caffé Gambrinus is reborn to a new splendour.
The battle is won. Naples regains its history. Restored to its former glory the Gran Caffé Gambrinus becomes the beating of the city. Today the
enhancement of work started by Michele Sergio is carried on by his sons Arturo and Antonio Sergio that made the only historic literary café of the city of Naples still great.