From Buenos Aires to New Orleans to Zurich, these grand institutions have been offering deli-cacies and camaraderie for more than a century
A good café is more than a place to refuel. Cafés give us room to relax, to read, to write. They are social spaces and meeting places. They are where we form romantic relationships—or break them. No wonder, then, that so many become institutions, sometimes spanning generations. During my travels, I have found inspiration in the following cafés, all more than a century old. That they also happen to serve great coffee is an added bonus.
From its stained-glass skylight to its carved-wood walls, Café Tortoni is unique. Founded in 1858, the Argentine capital’s oldest coffee shop serves as an agora for the literary and artistic elite. To this day, its basement hosts such events as tango performances and poetry readings. Long lines are guaranteed. After all, Tortoni is only a stone’s throw away from B.A.’s most revered landmarks: Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada. Avoid crowds by visiting early in the morning, joining the ranks of well-heeled porteños lingering over their café con leche with a medialuna, Argentina’s sweet breakfast croissant.
A scene in The Godfather forever cemented New York City’s association with cannolis. Conventional wisdom situates Little Italy as the place to get the crispy Sicilian logs filled with velvety ricotta, but conventional wisdom can be wrong. Family-run Veniero’s, in the East Village, has been whipping up Italian sweets since 1894, using recipes Antonio Veniero brought over from the Old World. The pasticceria offers more than 200 cookies and cakes, from biscotti and pignoli to tiramisu and millefoglie. Summer provides the perfect excuse to dig into a tiny mountain of Italian ice—the cantaloupe, in particular, is beyond divine.
Rio owes much of its identity to its curvaceous coastline, so it’s almost understandable that the city’s teeming beaches overshadow its status as a trove of architecture, from art deco to neo-Manueline. Confeitaria Colombo, in the heart of Centro, is among the city’s finest examples of art nouveau. Opened in 1894, the café has opulent salons framed by dessert-filled showcases, a wraparound balcony and a magnificent skylight. The setting is as grand as the menu is bewildering. To streamline decision-making, splurge on the decadent afternoon tea featuring pastel, brigadeiro and other Brazilian specialties.
Hats off to this market stand for establishing dominion over fried dough. Founded in 1862, Café du Monde essentially serves five things: coffee, hot chocolate, milk, orange juice and beignets. The latter, a pillow-like cousin of the doughnut—fluffy inside, crusty outside and unabashedly cloaked in powdered sugar—has established the place as a New Orleans classic. Café du Monde is open 24 hours a day, attracting Bourbon Street revelers craving a sugar hit. The packaged beignet mix makes a terrific souvenir, but it’s hard to beat biting into one on site.
While the popularity of the aforementioned cafés guarantees a perennial bustle (and din), Conditorei Schober settles loftily on the other end of the spectrum. The genteel tearoom, founded in 1874, is tucked among the cobbled lanes and medieval buildings of Zurich’s fabled old town. Whispered conversations are punctuated only by the tinkling of china. The baked delicacies and handcrafted chocolates are textbook in taste and artbook in execution. Selections run the Franco-German dessert gamut, with macarons, strudels and mousses all impossible to resist. Diets be gone!