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Old is gold: 5 historical cafés around the world

There’s something oddly romantic about visiting a café with a storied history. Maybe it’s the thought of how, once upon a time, famous luminaries the likes of Charles Dickens, Voltaire and Napoleon Bonaparte walked through those very same doors. Or maybe it’s the whole nostalgic affair of dining in a place that has bore witness to many momentous events over the decades, while managing to stand the test of time.

Delicious food and drink are always crucial to a satisfying dining experience. But when it comes to historical cafés, much of their allure lies in their rich heritage and ability to conjure up a sense of yesteryear. Here are 5 establishments around the world that will take you back to the good old days.

Caffè Florian Venezia, Italy

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A historical photograph of Caffè Florian in its early days.

Why it’s historic: Situated in the Procuratie Nuove of St Mark’s Square in Venice, this iconic café was opened in 1720 as Alla Venezia Trionfante (which translates to “To the Triumphant Venice”). It was renamed years later after its owner Floriano Francesconi.

Caffè Florian gained repute for serving wines and coffees from the Orient, Cyprus and Malaysia, as well as its sumptuously furnished rooms decorated with paintings. It was the only meeting place at that time that admitted women, and was also where the first-ever Venice Biennale was held in 1895.

Caffe Florian Hall of Seasons
The café remains beautifully furnished even today.

Today, the café remains a famous landmark in Venice and features a permanent orchestra, which performs regularly for patrons. It also has a second outlet located in Florence.

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Don’t leave without trying its famed coffee and cakes.

What to order: Croissants, quiches, cakes and coffee.

Notable clientele: Giacomo Casanova, Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Andy Warhol and Charles Dickens.

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Writer Ernest Hemingway was one of the prominent personalities who frequented the café.

Caffè Florian Venezia, Piazza San Marco, 57-30124 Venice, Italy, +39 041 520 5641, www.caffeflorian.com

Restaurant Le Procope, France

Restarant Le Procope galerie2
Restaurant Le Procope is an opulent space dressed in red and leather.

Why it’s historic: Founded in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, this elegant coffee house along Paris’ rue de l’Ancienne Comédie was a popular hangout for philosophers and writers because of its proximity to the state theatre. It is Paris’ oldest restaurant.

Le Procope underwent a restoration in the ’80s and today, is a luxurious space with red leather banquettes, chandeliers and oval portraits.

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Feast on hearty dishes such as calf’s head casserole at Restaurant Le Procope.

What to order: Calf’s head casserole, knife-cut Charolais steak tartare with French fries, crepes and profiteroles.

Notable clientele: Jean de La Fontaine, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte — whose hat is displayed in a glass case at the restaurant.

Restaurant Le Procope, 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, Paris 75006, +01 40 46 79 00, uk.procope.com

Paragon Café, Australia

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An old photo of Paragon Café.

Why it’s historic: Believed to be Australia’s oldest café, Paragon was launched in 1916 by Zacharias Simos, a 19-year-old migrant from Kythera, Greece. Located in Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains of Sydney, it started out serving candy, soda drinks and seafood such as lobsters and oysters. The place was an opulent spot dressed in white and gold, and came with a swanky supper room for private events.

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Paragon Café today.

The following years saw the addition of two function rooms, along with the attachment of alabaster sculptures to the eatery’s maplewood walls. Today, Paragon Café continues to be a popular stop for visitors to the Blue Mountains, because of its rich heritage and Art Deco-inspired interiors.

What to order: Handmade chocolates, waffles and pastries.

Paragon Cafe
The coffee house is known for its handmade chocolates.

Notable clientele: Sir Bob Geldof, Bob Dylan, Ginger Rogers, Lee Marvin and Kate Ceberano.

Paragon Café, 65 Katoomba Street, Katoomba, New South Wales, +61 2 4782 2928, theparagonhistory.com.au

Café Paulista, Japan

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Café Paulista is one of Tokyo’s oldest coffee houses. (Credit: Tokyo Bling)

Why it’s historic: Café Paulista was first launched in 1911 in Ginza, Tokyo as an eatery serving up brews made from Brazil-imported coffee beans. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, which devastated many parts of Tokyo. It reopened in 1969 and, a year later, moved to its current location at Nagasaki Center. Staying true to its roots, the establishment is designed around a Brazilian theme and uses coffee beans from the South American country.

Cafe Paulista
The café stays true to its roots with its Brazilian-themed interiors and coffee.

What to order: Paulista Old (its signature bitter coffee blend) and Cafe Florestal, a milder brew.

Notable clientele: John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Café Paulista, 8-9-16 Ginza, Nagasaki Center Bldg 1F, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture, +81 3-3572-6160,  www.paulista.co.jp

Coliseum Café & Grill Room, Malaysia

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Coliseum Café and Grill Room is a colonial-styled eatery in Kuala Lumpur.

Why it’s historic: This eatery along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur was opened in 1921 during the colonial era. Its interiors reflect that heritage, with antique furniture, dark wood saloon doors and retro floor tiles. Most of its furniture and decorations have been preserved since its early days, and its walls are lined with photos of famous personalities who have dined there.

Coliseum serves a repertoire of Hainanese and Western fare, and operates three other branches in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya Selangor and Petaling Jaya. 

Coliseum oxtail soup
A signature dish is the oxtail soup.

What to order: Oxtail soup, sizzling steak and English pot pie.

Notable clientele: Tunku Abdul Rahman, P. Ramlee and Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Coliseum Café & Grill Room, 98-100 & 102 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, +603 2692 6270, www.coliseum1921.com

Sara Yap
Deputy Director, Digital Operations (Asia)
Sara Yap is the Deputy Director of Digital Operations at BurdaLuxury, and a contributing writer to Lifestyle Asia’s dining and jewellery beats. When she’s not on the lookout for exciting new restaurants or bejewelled trinkets, she’s probably buried in a riveting read, or reminiscing the good ol’ days with her favourite playlist of ’90s boyband hits.