But as the landmark location is to reopen after a six-month renovation process on Sunday, visitors won’t find the signature eau de nil paint that defines the Marchesi 1824 cafès in Milan, nor its elegant banner. The fashion company decided to honor the legacy of the hotspot, keeping its original name as well as restoring its distinctive navy color that now covers part of the interior and all product packaging.
The result is a unique case in the group’s hospitality projects, as it blends the venue’s original identity with the Marchesi 1824 and Prada ones. To be sure, the culinary offering is the same as all the Marchesi 1824 cafès – picture-perfect pastries, boxes of candies and tiny salty appetizers included – while the new interiors nod to archives of the Prada brand. A womenswear Prada store is adjacent to the cafè and a menswear unit is a stone’s throw away.
Positioned strategically at one corner of the central Piazza Garibaldi square, Caffè Principe has always represented a key spot in the social life of the Italian luxury resort destination. Opened at the end of the ‘30s by the Florentine family Galli and changing owners throughout the years, its popularity boomed in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when it became a regular meeting point with live music for both Italians and tourists.
Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the cafè officially became a Marchesi 1824 property from June 1.
The location has been revamped with the goal of respecting its identity and honoring its Dolce Vita heyday. The informal resort vibe of the new interior concept was developed with Florence-based architect Michele Bönan, who has worked on projects including Hotel Portrait and Hotel Continentale in Florence; Hotel J.K. Place in Rome and Capri; Hotel Marquise in Paris; the Casa Tua restaurants in Aspen and Miami, and several Cipriani restaurants across the world, to name a few.
“I’ve been coming to Forte dei Marmi since I was born,” said Bönan during a preview, adding he has a family house here.
The architect recalled that when Prada Group chairman and executive director Patrizio Bertelli stopped by his studio and the four-hour-long chat the two had before they visited Caffè Principe. “We got here, a cafè I know very well but that I’ve always seen in a strange way because it was lived more in its outdoor part rather than inside. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we open the indoor with outdoor?’” said Bönan.
The goal was to create a seamless continuation between the two areas. Inside, white paneling on the walls and wood flooring frame a space punctuated by palms, wicker armchairs, graphic carpets in bold green and tangerine colors and design elements intended to evoke furniture of the ‘50s, as seen in lamps and chairs.
“Through historic images we tried to recover the look and feel of an era we wanted to imagine, but never in a nostalgic way,” said the architect. “Plus we based the interiors on some elements we found here,” he added, pointing as an example to the rediscovery of the original look of the balustrade above the main hall.
Other elements were replicated from the ‘60s or from Bertelli’s own design pieces, such as a series of armchairs. “Many things are new but they look like they have always been here. That’s the real beauty: when you can’t see the intervention,” said Bönan.
To give “a glimpse of Prada’s presence in a soft and elegant way,” the architect asked the company to access its textile archives, too, selecting a green-and-white pattern to use on the venue’s curtains, bar counter and wooden room dividers.
Further dotting the space, which can accommodate around 170 people between indoors and outdoors, are vintage furniture and colorful Ginori vases. “But a key part of the architectural project is the service. Service is architecture, because an inadequate one diminishes the beauty of any place,” noted Bönan.
Mixing former members and 20 new hires, the staff currently includes about 24 people, but the company aims to add a handful more employees in the coming months. All of them have been in Milan for training sessions on both product and service, including the three new pastry chefs who had a six-month-training in the city under the guidance of Diego Crosara, Marchesi 1824’s pastry creator director.
As for their uniforms, these have been designed by Miuccia Prada and include a crisp white shirt with the cafè’s italics logo embroidered on the front, navy jeans and white sneakers for men or espadrilles for women. Bartenders wear a white bowling shirt with navy piping.
Wearing a total black look during a preview, Caffè Principe’s director Valentino Casamenti underscored the challenges in hiring new personnel in general and “the double challenge for us as we are reopening with the high season already in full force.”
As for Casamenti, he hails from the world of luxury hotels, such as the local Grand Hotel Imperiale.
“Obviously I had experienced the food and beverage part of the business, but from a hotel point of view. I had a maître or a restaurant manager as part of my team, but I hadn’t touched this side firsthand,” said Casamenti. “But to be honest, the concept of hospitality has changed over the years, now it is broader. It takes place everywhere: in a hotel, a bar, a pastry shop or a luxury boutique… So this experience will be the same in terms of reception and empathy, the only difference is that it requires a specific knowledge of a different product.”
In particular, the salty menu will offer a selection of Marchesi 1824’s carte, focusing on summer go-to choices like small sandwiches and Caprese salads. Other staples of the cuisine, such as the very Milanese “riso al salto,” are expected to be integrated in the future, when a fully-equipped kitchen will be added to the cafè.
In the meantime, the only new entry in the menu is the Focaccia di Recco hot focaccia with cheese, introduced upon the wish of Bertelli’s and imported directly from the namesake town in Italy’s Liguria region, said Casamenti.
Marchesi 1824’s forte, the sweet offering, is aligned with all the brand’s cafès. “The philosophy is to have a quintessentially Italian product and take it in all parts of the world,” confirmed Crosara, who joined the firm in 2018.
Prada Group bought a majority stake in Pasticceria Marchesi in 2014 and added two cafés – one on Via Monte Napoleone and one in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – to the original location in Milan’s via Santa Maria alla Porta. A fourth location opened in London’s Mount Street in 2019.
“The idea is to offer a reinterpretation of classic patisserie,” continued Crosara, who pointed to only three differences in the menu. These include the addition of a fried donut; the reintroduction of the “Torta di Riso” cake, an historic Marchesi 1824 recipe offered in the past in the pastry’s seminal location and now available only at Caffè Principe, and a wider selection of ice cream flavors compared to the four to six available in Milan.
Asked about the signature panettone, the jewel in the crown of the patisserie, Casamenti cracked a laugh and ensured that “we’re making all arrangements to bring that one here, too.”
Caffè Principe will be open every day from 7.30 a.m. to 1 a.m., serving from breakfast and lunch to aperitifs and after-dinner drinks. To this end, the cocktail offering has been expanded to add the Principe Cocktail, “which was created a few years ago for a Prada after-show event and has been approved by Mrs. Prada.” A free take on the French 75 recipe, the blue-hued cocktail blends Gray Goose vodka with Butterfly Pea tea, lemon juice, sugar and is topped with Blanc de Blanc Champagne and violet aroma.
The company’s future aim is to keep Caffè Principe open all-year-long, unveil its rooftop terrace that has already been revamped, and implement catering projects, in a nod to the frequent in-store events hosted by the luxury stores in the area, including those in Prada Group’s portfolio, like the Miu Miu and Car Shoe units.