Because of the prices and the tourist mobs, Venetians tend to avoid caffè in the Piazza San Marco. But when they want to indulge and regain control of their city, they go to Florian. Founded in 1720, it's not only Italy's first caffè, but with its glittering neo-baroque decor and attractive 19th-century wall panels (depicting Venetian heroes), it's undisputedly the most beautiful. Florian is steeped in local history: favored by Venetians during the long Austrian occupation,
it was the only caffè to serve women during the 18th century (hence Casanova's patronage), and it was the caffè of choice for artistic notables such as Wagner, Goethe, Goldoni, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, and Charles Dickens. It was also the birthplace of the international art exhibition, which later blossomed into the Venice Biennale. The coffee, drinks, and snacks are quite good (think chocolate, hot or otherwise), but you really come here for the atmosphere and to be part of Venetian history. There's a surcharge for music; so savvy Venetians and travelers in a hurry opt for lower prices at the comfortable bar in the back.