European Union Policy Studies

Bar Patrizia

Bar Patrizia Florence

Pictured: EUPS (x2018) student Kyle Conahan with JMU Professor Chris Blake. Photo Credit: Vincenzo Bologna

By Sara Leming

If you mention the names Patrizia and Antonella to EUPS alumni, they will likely remember the two sisters who run the cafe next door to the JMU palazzo. When EUPS students are in need of caffeine or a study break, they often head over to the sisters’ cafe, Bar Patrizia, located in Via Maggio next to Piazza Santo Spirito. After sitting down to talk with the two sisters, it was clear that they not only have a unique story to tell about their own establishment but also have an inside perspective on recent cultural and touristic developments within Florence.

Patrizia and Antonella are true Florentines and have lived together in Florence their entire lives. Their family is originally from Maremma, in Southern Tuscany. In the 1960’s when Patrizia and Antonella were young girls, their parents opened a family-run cafe in Florence. When Patrizia came of age, her father encouraged her to open her own cafe, which she did in December 1977 with the help of Antonella, who was still in middle school at the time. Bar Patrizia is open Monday through Friday, and each day the sisters arrive together promptly at six in the morning and stay until six in the evening. Patrizia and Antonella run their cafe unassisted with the exception of occasional help from their younger nephew, Fulvio, who also lives in Florence. Together, they make a great team: Antonella takes care of administrative tasks such as the cafe’s finances and supply orders, and Patrizia works directly with the customers and keeps up the cafe’s eccentric 1970’s decor.  

When one walks into Bar Patrizia for the first time, they will undoubtedly notice a few decorative peculiarities. The decor of Bar Patrizia includes vintage teddy bears that are neatly placed inside the cafe glass windows and are accompanied by accessories that match the season. Currently, the teddy bears are decorated with springtime flowers to celebrate the beginning of spring. The back counters of the cafe are lined with dozens of postcards from international locations such as Egypt, Argentina, and the United States. Antonella mentioned that the postcard from Washington DC was sent to them from JMU alumni. Bar Patrizia has several crocheted paintings that were handmade by their mother and that complement the 1970’s vintage-style theme. One customer overheard our conversation and remarked, “You won’t find another café like this in Florence.”

Last December, Bar Patrizia celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Patrizia noted that her cafe is one of the only remaining historic establishments in the area. She said that this is mainly due to Florence’s increased popularity among tourists. As tourism has increased, the area has become much less residential and more geared towards the city’s visitors. Other shops, that typically made up the area surrounding Piazza Santo Spirito, were family-run businesses such as hairdressers, florists, and furniture stores. Many of these shops could not keep up with the increase of rent payments or lost residential customers as the city became more popular with tourists. Patrizia recalled Palazzo Pitti, where tourists now lounge and enjoy the nice spring weather, having a parking area in front of it. Although this side of the river, known as “Oltrarno”, meaning beyond the Arno, has typically been overlooked by tourists as compared to the rest of Florence, it has recently experienced a spike in popularity due to its “offbeat” and “hipster” neighborhoods that have attracted more visitors, especially students studying abroad.

When asked why Bar Patrizia has been able to stay competitive among the many cafes in Florence, both sisters agreed that it has been difficult since their cafe does not attract large groups of tourists and is outside the city center.  They noted that they heavily rely on their loyal customers, including JMU students. Antonella and Patrizia said that they consider the JMU students to be their extended family and enjoy conversing with them in Italian. To conclude their story Patrizia and Antonella have seen the transformation of Florence from a unique and first-hand perspective.  When they first opened Bar Patrizia in the 1970’s Florence was a small residential city and now in 2018 Florence has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Although the spike in tourism has made their business more challenging Patrizia and Antonella have continued to make their mark in Florence through their charming personalities and memorable cafe.


Published: Thursday, April 12, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2018

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