Bordering Piazza San Marcos (St. Mark’s Square) in the heart of Venice, Caffè Florian started in 1720 as a two-room coffeehouse owned by Floriano Francesconi. Its initial purpose was to serve the crowds that assembled for the great masked Carnevale, a grand party where all classes of Venetian society celebrated together under the anonymity of lavish costumes.
Floriano believed in making all visitors welcome and lived by his own motto, “Wear your best smile.” From the very start, the café attracted a wide range of guests, especially artists, activists, and writers, including Casanova, and later, Balzac, Shelley, Byron, and Hemingway.
When Floriano died in 1773, his nephew Valentino took over and surpassed his uncle in popularity and charisma. Valentino is credited with not only expanding the physical space of the café, but the number of guests as well. He fought the government’s rule to ban women from such venues and won.