Published April 14, 2012 by Tony


One of the reasons why the international giant Starbucks has not invaded Italy with its cafes is right at the base of this new chat. It is no coincidence that the idea of exporting Italian coffee culture overseas came to Howard Schultz, just after a visit to Italy in the far 1983.
Except some countries of Latin culture, the culture of the coffee shop, or simply of the “BAR” as we call it,  has not grown around so strong as in Italy. For this, in Italy the ratio between the number of bar and people is (or was) the highest in the world. The old Italic bar, the traditional one, is however disappearing and we can find someone just in some small and remote village of the province, where time seems to stand still. Once, especially in small-towns realities, only the bar was the meeting place for a chat and pastime. In a certain way, such as the piazza (square) of each country where, especially on Sundays and holidays, people found themselves to socialize, discuss and pass the time.
From the postwar period on, the bar not only offered coffee and cappuccino, but refined by Juke-box, TV, billiard, flippers, tables for playing cards and with the inevitable table-football. The bar was the only store always open, from early morning until night, when you come home tired, with the hope of a better future.
Older people spent hours playing cards, and in Italy every region has its own playing cards and its traditional games. Alike a note picture postcard, we were used to see two, three or four elders sitting at a table, inside or outside the bar, and kill time playing cards, where often the loser was the one who had to pay for coffee or beer. Children often lingered there to watch them in the hope of a coin or lollipop. The older boys, however, played billiard, table-football or hang out between a coffee and a cigarette, watching the passersby in the street. It was par excellence the place to socialize, tittle-tattle and talk about football, because on that time we went home only to eat or sleep, and there was nothing more than television or radio as a medium of entertainment. The bartender, then, was the friend of all, always respectful and friendly and like the local barber or hairdresser, knew everything about everybody. That was just a place for men and a woman hardly hang around, unless had to buy milk or pastries.
Italian bar was a place for passaging through or have a break, a sort of pool hall where we could joke or argue, but not eating or dancing, as it came about American cafeterias. Under this point of view, we Italians are always been reserved and ashamed, while alcohol has never been our best friend in misfortune.
All of us older generation grew up with the culture of the bar, and it was there that we made acquaintance, exchanged news, made a deal, learned new things and daydreamed listening to some 45 rpm record playing in the jukebox.

And that’s where just as a thirteen-years-old I learned to smoke, play cards and table-football. Having no money, it was the only place where someone could offer me a cigarette, or challenge in a table-football match. It was there, thanks a friend who played drums, I also learned to play it and to love music. Still there, where even alone, I often hang out at and spent the long sunny summer afternoons, watching a billiard or card game. Time seemed to flow more slowly and, despite everything, it all seemed calmer and in human scale.
Over the years the situation has changed and today, including globalization, Internet, crises and busy life, this type of bar has no longer reason to exist. Many bar have closed and if those which remain do not adapt, will follow the same fate. Today we look to the comfort, luxury, all-in-one, take and go, and apart some pensioner, which of us gets time or inclination to play a game cards at a table in a bar?

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