The Bar Italia was started in the winter of 1949 by Lou and Caterina Polledri. Lou was originally from Piacenza, Italy. The couple had already opened up a cafe in Long Acre, Covent Garden a few years earlier, and then saw an opportunity for a cafe in Soho, which would not only be a cafe – and remember good coffee was hard to find in those days – but could also act as a fantastic social centre for the Italian community in London.
Soho was then a big Italian area so it necessarily followed that people such as waiters would have time on their hands in between their shifts to come and meet and talk with other Italians.
Bar Italia was a success from the off and it soon became a big part of the Italian community.
If you were a waiter and unemployed you would get help from the other waiters to find a job. It was a place where people could catch up. It was also a place where people who had lost family members during the recent War, could find out what had happened.
Bar Italia’s design was state of art for its day. It has been remodernised two or three times over the years’, although the Polledri family have been careful to keep the detail and the continuity of what was originally there when it opened.
The red and white formica is an important part of the Bar. Original pieces remain from 1949. The Gaggia coffee machine has been there fifty years now.
Bar Italia has the look of a classic Italian cafe and it always will continue to do so.
The floor in Bar Italia that was laid by Uncle Torini Polledri family and it plays an important part to this day. If you think about all the millions of people who have walked over that floor in that time, you can appreciate the great skilled work by the condition it is still in, and it gives you a real insight into how Roman relics and places like Pompeii survived.
Bar Italia celebrated it’s 60th birthday in 2009, so pick up your cappucino, and raise a toast the next 60 years to come.
“In my role as a coffee ‘expert’ and consultant I always begin the tour of cafe culture in London with the opening statement. ‘It began here in Bar Italia’. My guests come from all over the world to find out what is happening with coffee in London and even though there is always something new Bar Italia shines like a beacon through the murk of the corporate coffee world.
What makes it special?
It’s not just the wonderful coffee, the warm greeting or the atmosphere. There is something unique. Coffee making is a ritual, a ritual handed down over the centuries. Here you feel the history and when you order a coffee in Bar Italia you are participating in the millions of rituals that have taken place there over the years. So perhaps that’s why it is like no other coffee bar because here you become part of that timeless institution that is Bar Italia”