Caffé Vittoria

One of many such pieces in Caffe Vittoria on Hanover StreetCaffé Vittoria is something of Boston institution, or certainly a North End institution (the North End being the Italian part of town). It’s an old-fashioned Italian Café, with heritage dating back to 1929. Spread over three floors, with four seating areas, I’ve only ever visited during the day, when just the ground floor café is open. At night it becomes more of a bar than a café, although the menus stay the same throughout the day, serving coffee, drinks, pastries and ice-cream.

As a day-time café, it trades on my sense of nostalgia as much as anything else; waitress service, a menu that is delightfully concise and to the point, and all with certain air of opulence. A real touch of old Italian class. It helps that the coffee is reliably good and, being an old-fashioned Italian espresso man myself, it very much hits the spot. The pastries, by the way, are divine.

If you want something a little different from the typical American coffee shop, then Caffé Vittoria is the place to go. For me, no trip to Boston would be complete without popping in for an espresso.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

Caffé Vittoria is an old-fashioned Italian Café, something of a rarity in these days of the modern coffee shop, although to be fair, it has some competition since it’s in the middle of Hanover Street in the middle of Boston’s North End, still the Italian part of town. From the very start, Caffé Vittoria is trading on the traditional Italian image. Marble-topped tables with stainless-steel chairs sit on a marble-tiled floor, while the walls are festooned with art deco coffee posters, old coffee urns and vintage espresso machines in various states of decay, including some delightful cylinder models. One of them was being used as a coat-stand by three old ladies on the table next to me. Ah, the indignity. You’d think that one set of old ladies would show another old lady some respect…

Of course, this being America, there has to be a television in the corner showing SportsCenter with the sound turned down, while Frank Sinatra somewhat incongruously croons quietly in the background. That said, my favourite Italian espresso bar in London, Bar Italia, has a TV at the back, but at least that’s tuned to an Italian TV channel.

Caffé Vittoria is long and thin and the layout is pretty simple: there’s a pair of bay windows either side of the recessed door, each with a highly-prized table where you can sit and watch the world go by on Hanover Street. The marble-topped bar runs almost the full length of the right-hand side while a row of small, round tables, each with four chairs, runs up the left-hand side. At the back, where I like to sit, things open out a bit, but it’s not exactly spacious.

Given the preponderance of old-fashioned coffee-making paraphernalia, including an old cylinder machine in pride of place on the bar as you come in, the actual espresso is made with a pair of fairly modern range-style machines. These days Caffé Vittoria serves Lavazza coffee and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, the purest in me was rather hoping that it was going to be a house blend, roasted in small batches by an old Italian family who’d lived in the area for generations. That said, the espresso I had hit the spot. My only complaint is that it could have been a bit shorter, but I find myself saying that a lot in American establishments.

Caffé Vittoria is refreshingly one-sized fits all when it comes to its drinks: there is no small, medium or large (or, heaven forbid, mock-Italian sounding names for the sizes). If coffee’s not your thing, there’s hot chocolate, a wide selection of tea and a range of Italian sodas.  There’s also a well-stocked bar, with liqueurs, spirits and wine and, of course, some very tempting Italian pastries and ice-cream. Very tempting indeed.

At the end of the day, Caffé Vittoria is an institution, serving up a slice of old Italy. It’s not for everyone, but there’s more than enough in it that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s wrong to go to America and hanker after something essentially Italian (I certainly would never go to Italy and pine for an American-style coffee shop!) but a visit to Boston without a visit to Caffé Vittoria just wouldn’t feel right…

290-296 HANOVER STREET • BOSTON • MA 02113 • USA
www.caffevittoria.com +1 617 227 7606
Monday 07:00 – 00:00 Seating Tables
Tuesday 07:00 – 00:00 Food Pastries
Wednesday 07:00 – 00:00 Service Table
Thursday 07:00 – 00:00 Cards Cash Only
Friday 07:00 – 00:30 Wifi No
Saturday 07:00 – 00:30 Power A few
Sunday 07:00 – 00:00 Mobile N/A
Chain No Visits 27th February 2013

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Boston’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Boston and Cambridge.


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