Like any Italian city, Genoa has a plethora of options when you need caffeine and Italia has some great institutions who have made it an art form; Florian in Venezia, Gilli in Firenze for example, and so when my guide to the essentials for 48 hours in Genoa included a stop at the city’s oldest caffè, I had high expectations. Though I wasn’t relying on Lonely Planet at the time, they offer this description:
Pre-dating cappuccinos, Klainguti opened in 1828 and its Mittel European charms, and presumably its strudel and pastries, had Verdi and Garibaldi coming back for more. Waiters in bow ties toil under an impressive chandelier and the decor is a fabulous, if tatty, mid-century historical pastiche.
I was expecting something ostentatious then; perhaps polished fittings and woodwork seasoned by the thousands of hands that had rested on the counter in the nearly 200 years of service. I walked past it three times before I recognised it, and when I did enter I was so underwhelmed that I failed to notice the chandelier. The waiters wore matching burgundy waistcoats and aprons but no bow ties, and whilst I might agree with “tatty”, I wouldn’t have stretched to “fabulous”.
I probably wasn’t seeing it at its best. It was a cold grey morning and if might borrow from Python’s Cheese Shop, it was largely uncontaminated by customers. Nor was my colazione particularly impressive. The place felt like a stage set, designed to create an impression of age so long as you didn’t apply too much scrutiny. I didn’t even bother photographing the counter, though a less jaundiced blogger has done so here if you’re interested.
Maybe my problem lies with its heritage. It just didn’t feel Italian, and of course the name, and it’s founding date point back to a period when Austria had been an occupying force here. Still the Viennese have a reputation in the field of cafe und kuchen so that’s no excuse.
Klainguti was full of mirrors which bounced around a strange yellow light (correcting this in my pictures was a bit of a challenge) which is ironic since my favourite caffè in Genoa was Caffè degli Specchi (Cafe of the Mirrors), or as the sign outside quotes from Italian poet Dino Campana:
In my pidgin Italian, I understood this as meaning “Within the porcelain grotto I watched the proprietor grind coffee while the crowd grew” – please feel free to correct me Stacy di Anna Pollard!
It certainly seemed fitting for two reasons:
- despite the reference to mirrors in the establishment’s name, it was the tiled ceiling that really drew my attention, and
- there was no shortage of customer contamination here!