‘Our grandparents Lou and Caterina Polledri emigrated from the city of Piacenza in Northern Italy in the 1920s. By the mid 30s, they had set up a traditional cafe just off Long Acre in Covent Garden to serve the workers in the fruit and vegetable market.
At the start of the Second World War our grandfather was interned in one of the camps located on The Isle of Man as an enemy alien because of his Italian origins. During this period our grandmother kept the business going. These were hard times for the family but by sheer hard work the business prospered even during the dark days of the blitz.
These were difficult days for all Italians in London who were often victimised. They had to stick together and make the best of it. Thankfully, the cafe in Covent Garden was never targeted.
After the War, Lou and Caterina found an opportunity to open a coffee bar in Soho, and Bar Italia was opened in the winter of 1949. Good coffee was hard to find in post war London and Bar Italia was a success from the start, playing an important role in the Italian community. It was a place where they could meet and be among their own. Many waiters, who had time on their hands between shifts, would meet other paisani there.
At the Bar, they could catch up on news from Italy from those who had recently arrived in the UK.
The Bar was also a place where they could find work,. Often highly skilled artisans found employment through a ‘word of mouth’ network. Ice men played a huge part in the running of so many successful restaurants and cafes, as well as knife grinders and stonecutters.
Every one had a skill, everyone was a professional. The stone floor you see in Bar Italia today was laid by our uncle Torino Polledri, who was terrazzo mosaic specialist. The floor to this day, contributes to the ambience of Bar Italia and just think of the millions of people who have walked over that floor for the past sixty five years and yet it is still in excellent condition. His technique was similar to that of the ancient Romans and some of their floors have lasted over two thousand years.
Antony, Luigi and Veronica Polledri