About 20 years ago, a colleague from work visited Florence. On his return, he showed me a photo taken of a café in the Piazza della Repubblica. What caught his attention was the name emblazoned on the awning—Paszkowski. He wondered if it was a relation to me. I was just as mystified because that’s exactly the way my grandfather, Peter Paszkowski, spelled his name.
In early September, along with 6 friends, Jane and me visited Florence. In addition to experiencing this enchanting city, it was a fantastic opportunity to seek out my namesake. On our first morning in town, we started the day with cappuccino and brioche at a bar near our rented apartment. Then we set off across the Arno River on a stroll that brought us into the heart of the old city. It was 10:00 in the morning when we reached the Piazza della Repubblica, just about time for a second cappuccino, and a chance to catch up on family history.
We sat on plush sofas in the open air lounge that faces the square. We were greeted and handed leather-bound menus gilded with “Paszkowski” on the cover. I knew it was a classy joint when I saw the name similarly etched on the cups and glassware. Even the napkins and seat backs had the family moniker.
A quick glance at the menu revealed another attribute of the establishment– it’s expensive. Here the cappuccinos were 5.5 euros each, compared to the 1.5 we paid earlier that morning. But Paszkowski’s has elegance and above all- location. That makes an unbeatable combination that has led to a century and a half of success.
The establishment is very proud of their musical and literary legacy. They even have a fancy brochure on each table revealing the “Paszkowski Story.” Here’s an excerpt…
Paszkowski is one of the oldest cafés in town and even in the country. It was established in the middle of the 19th century as a beer factory and refreshment place, in the very same corner where it can be found today: Via Brunelleschi. Until a few years after the Unification of Italy, the square was the location of the fish market, but when Florence became the capital of Italy, the square underwent complete restoration.
In the late 1800’s Paszkowski became a “literary café.” D’Annunzio, Montale and Pratolini were among the most illustrious patrons. At the very beginning of the 20th century, the Paszkowski ensemble was already enlivening Florentine nights. When the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II was removed, the square took the name “Piazza della Repubblica.” With the economic and tourist boom, Florence became a mandatory stopover. Paszkowski has always lived up to its name, and its service is appreciated by people from all over the world who every day have the pleasure of frequenting it.
Although the establishment began as a beer hall, it soon took on a more sophisticated tone. The celebrated Concerto Paszkowski performed here as did a unique all-female orchestra. According to wikipedia, the site was declared a National Monument in 1991.
Paszkowski Café is a great people-watching location. The piazza is a blur of activity and you can watch the children riding the ornate carousel in the center.
Drawn to the place like a moth to light, I visited it on two other occasions. At night the café transforms into a music venue. When we passed-by in the evening a jazz duet was performing for a relaxed crowd. Inside the more finely appointed interior rooms sits a grand piano and gilded harp. Perhaps harkening back to the Concerto Paszkowski days.
But that’s not all. The interior also includes a pasticceria with counters filled with tempting pastries, sandwiches, and candies. Perfect for a morning espresso or an evening sweet. Although we did have a meal here, the place gets good reviews for fine dinning.
The following afternoon I met my traveling companions at the Café for an early cocktail. Bubbly prosecco was served in long stem glasses. We asked the waiter if any Paszkowski family members were still around, but alas, the family sold the business in 1979. I’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for other Paszkowski landmarks.
I spoke with the manager and explained my family connection. I even showed him my driver’s license which he scanned seemingly with interest. I inquired about purchasing some of the long stem glasses. After a considerable wait, I was presented with a beautifully packaged box, wrapped in distinctive Paszkowski wrapping paper and an elegant Paszkowski emblazoned red ribbon. Now the challenge was to hand carry the fragile cache back home.
I’m happy to report that the glasses arrived safely. If you happen to visit our house, make sure you get to sip something bubbly from the iconic flutes.