Do you have an ideal caffé-bar? Do you visualize yourself sitting comfortably in a beautiful piazza, with a charming waiter/ress, watching the world go past, sipping a delicious strong coffee, or maybe a freshly squeezed orange or lemon juice, or a chilled prosecco? Well, bad luck, you’re not Italian and you are certainly not a Marchigiano.
Italians like lots of different sorts of bars. They do like smart bars of the kind I have described, and there are some good ones in Le Marche – the Caffe Meletti (enjoy the quaint “English” or click on the tricolore) in Ascoli Piceno, for instance, or the Caffè Meridiano in Senigallia, or the Caffè del Duca in Mondavio. You can get virtually a free meal in some bars with the delicious free stuzzichini, or nibbles. (They are fantastic in Sicily, and the bar opposite the duomo in Modena does very good ones too.)
Italians also like neighbourhood caffè-bars – somewhere in a fairly quiet street where the children can go by themselves for an ice cream (an ice lolly, ghiacciolo, is fine, it doesn’t have to be scooped out of a metal container in a special refrigerated counter), or men can have a drink while their wives prepare a meal, or women can meet for a chat. They don’t mind if the bars are small and dark with uncomfortable plastic chairs, or if the first thing that meets the eye is a stand of Chiclets or potato crisps. That’s the sort of thing you might want to buy in a caffè-bar. Freshly squeezed fruit juice is expensive anyway, so why waste your money?
And they don’t exactly like, but need, pit stops for workers where they can fill up on caffeine. (The coffee is always good,wherever you are.)
Teenagers like somewhere with tolerant staff where they can hang out after school.
Italians don’t mind if the bar staff are sullen or fake deferential with other people – they know the staff anyway, or if they are birds of passage it doesn’t matter. I’ll never forget the bored waiter in Fabriano saying “Desidera?” or the barmaid in Marotta who was obviously annoyed that strangers had come into her bar. So be prepared, especially if you are visiting a small hilltown where the centre is fairly quiet anyway.
Italian caffès have a lot of problems;no more national service, no homesick young men with nowhere to go; the mobile phone (no one comes in to use the phone now) and the recession. Italians know how to economise, and, according to the figures in the local paper, they are cutting down on cappuccini and aperitivi. You can tell that the heart has just gone out of some caffè-owners.