When I arrived in Florence – Firenze to the locals – the first thing I did was find my hotel and check out the area nearby. Turns out I was right in the middle of “Il Duomo,” and I was excited to find that I was less than a block away from Gilli Caffe, a somewhat famous Italian coffee house. I was immediately drawn in by their windows, which were richly decorated with Easter treats for the upcoming holiday; the parade of chocolate rabbits and gigantic sugar eggs, decorated to the culinary equivalent of cloisonné, had attracted quite a crowd of camera-toting tourists, me included.
Before finding a seat on Gilli’s golden terrace, I took a quick tour of the shops’ interior, which boasts leaded glass accents and an impressively lavish coffee bar lined with a malachite green marble countertop. The espresso machine glittered temptingly behind a handful of baristas, dressed to the nines and gliding effortlessly back and forth behind the counter, making coffee and interacting with customers.
Around the corner from the coffee bar, a long glass case displayed some of the most beautiful pastries I’ve seen in ages: sugary cannolis, cheerful berry tarts, and cream-filled profiteroles drizzled with satiny smooth chocolate ganache. Really, Gilli’s desserts counter is a high-class bordello of pastry.
Finally, I took my seat. I made eye contact with the waiter, an older gentleman, who proceeded to ignore me over the next ten minutes. I finally got up and asked him for a menu, and my request was met with a curt question – lunch or café? Just café, I replied, and possibly a cioccolata calda (think Italian hot cocoa). He tossed a menu at me over his shoulder and I continued to wait patiently at my table for him to take my order.
A bit later, I again make eye contact with the waiter. Glancing at my watch, I see I’ve been sitting for fifteen minutes. Five more minutes go by and I still attract no attention, so I head into the coffee bar to order for myself. The barista behind the counter informs me that I can’t order at the bar if I’m sitting at a table, and asks that I please retake my seat and wait for the server. I tell him I’ve been waiting, for quite a while actually, to which he shrugs and slides away.
I go back outside to again make eye contact with the old, bored-looking waiter, and start flipping a Lonely Planet travel guide that someone’s left on a chair at the table. As luck would have it, they list Gilli as a must-see place to drink and people-watch. “The city’s grandest cafe,” it states, Gilli has been serving excellent coffee and cakes since 1733.” I again scan through the menu, making note of the prices, high for even Florence’s standards. 4€ for a simple espresso, 5.50€ for a cappuccino, and 7€ for hot cocoa. While that’s steep, I’m willing to pay for the experience and see what the fuss is all about.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to try their coffee, their hot cocoa, or one of the gorgeous pastries from the case because the server continued to pretend I wasn’t there for almost an hour total. The cafe had cleared out from the lunch rush, and at one point he brought me a table setting, like he was going to serve me, but he then reappeared at my table. Once I saw him glance over sideways and then go back to folding napkins. I eventually left, put off by the attitude and how much I’d be paying for the discourtesy of being summarily ignored.
So, dear reader, I can’t tell you if Gilli lives up to its reputation, because the service was so terrible that I never got the chance to try it. Instead, I went around the corner to a smaller cafe called Caffé le Logge, which was not only cheaper, but the espresso was lovely and the hot cocoa was lusciously smooth. Plus, the servers were friendly and went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable, bringing me a plate of meringues as a treat, on the house.
So sorry, Gilli, but it didn’t work out. Your coffee might be delightful, but I’ll never know because the pretentious attitude of your staff sucks.