Is This London's Oldest Coffee Shop?

By Victoria Thomas Last edited 97 months ago

Last Updated 30 April 2016

Is This London's Oldest Coffee Shop?
Bar Italia. Image: Emma Swann

Since the winter of 1949, Bar Italia has been keeping Soho buzzing. The Frith Street spot was opened by Lou and Caterina Polledri, who'd been serving espresso in Covent Garden's Long Acre, after emigrating from northern Italy in the 1920s.

After the second world war, they brought their business to Soho and Bar Italia was born. A success from the start, London's Italian community loved it as a place they could meet and get a taste of home.

The bar became a useful meeting place for recently-arrived Italians who, bringing news from home, could exchange this for tips and information about finding work in London. Bar Italia quickly began to have a huge impact on Soho's culture.

It also inspired many of the creatives and musicians who've sipped its brews — from Pulp's song, Bar Italia to a stage musical apparently being penned by Eurythmics' Dave Stewart.

In the 1960s, the bar's close proximity to Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, the Wardour Street Marquee Club and the 2i's Coffee Bar, meant that some of world's greatest musicians — including the Rolling Stones and Hendrix — could grab their caffeine fix here while passing through to a gig.

Today it retains its mod traditions by being the home of London's only dedicated mod scooter club, meeting on Sundays for "plenty of coffee and scenic rides through London".

It's been a family business throughout its life, with the floor of Bar Italia laid by uncle Torino Polledri — a terrazzo mosaic specialist who used a techique similar to the ancient Romans.

It's still there today at 22 Frith Street. Take a good look at it next time you're sipping an espresso.

Bar Italia, 22 Frith Street, W1D 4RF, is open 22 hours a day, from 7am-5am, 7 days a week