Rome’s oldest coffee bar survives closure, for now

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Rome’s oldest coffee bar, Caffe Greco, survived closure on Tuesday (October 22) after winning a stay of eviction in a legal battle against a massive rent hike.

Nestled in one of the capital’s most prominent streets, Via Condotti, the coffee bar opened in 1760 and since then has served espresso and cappuccinos to pretty much every famous person that passed through the city.

British author Charles Dickens, poet John Keats and Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor and members of various royal families are all former customers.

But in 2017 when the building lease expired, problems began. The property owner, a private hospital called Israelite Hospital has told local media it is respectful of the historic importance of the coffee bar but the old monthly rental of 18,000 euro ($20,000) is outdated. They say, the new price for a building of 350 metres so close to the Spanish steps should be 120,000 euro/month ($133,555). Some may say that is also under the market value for the area.

“Today we prevented for the third time the legal officials from entering, we succeeded to postpone eviction until January 29, but now we will mobilise ourselves so we don’t reach that date just waiting,” said the son of the coffee bar owner Luca Pellegrino.

Residents and tourists alike have been horrified such an important building could close.

“I hope that today there was a kind of salvation, because an important bar can’t just end like that, important not only locally, but also for the whole world,” said resident painter Stellario Baccellieri.

“If they close a bar like this, it is the end. When I go to Paris, I have a point of reference, some characteristic bars. All the tourists come here, you just can’t close this bar,” said Rome resident Olga Verga.

There is a precedent for this kind of eviction, in 2014 the famous Caffe della Pace, where film director Federico Fellini used to take his coffee was closed after rents rose too high. The building still remains empty.

For now the Caffe Greco bar owners think they will be safe until January 2020 when their appeal will be heard, but they say, they will be relying on the strong support of their clientele if they want to beat their eviction.