The Old Café

Although they dressed in different fashion and even though their towns and resorts had a different aspect, ancient Romanians used to spend summers in almost contemporary manner: in cafés. Even today, cafés, terraces, in general, are highly populated. They are the place to meet with friends, to discuss various topics, more or less fashionable.

The centuries of Ottoman domination influenced lifestyle, habits or cloths in the former Romanian Countries. Turkish gastronomy also left its mark on modern Romania. The names of several beverages and cuisine products are still of Turkish origin (e.g.: sarmale, ciulama, pilaf, baclava, sarailie, cataif). Coffee makes no exception in this respect. Coffeehouse (cafenea, cahvenea) comes from the Turkish kahvehane, kávé-hané, i.e. a public local where people drank coffee, prepared according to Turkish fashion, played dice, backgammon, or ghiordum (a card game) or smoked tobacco, all at a relatively small price. Though highly popular amongst Romanians, most coffee houses were owned prior to World War II by Turks, Greeks, Jews or Armenians.


The first known coffee shop in Bucharest was founded in 1667, during the reign of ruling prince Radu Leon (1664-1669). A former Janissary from the Ottoman imperial guard, a certain Kara Hamie, was its first owner. The coffee shop was located in downtown Bucharest, near the later Şerban Vodă Inn (replaced in the early 1880s by the Palace of the National Bank). In 1781, ruling prince Alexandru Ipsilanti gave permission to Ştefan Altîntop (baş-alai ceuş) to build a coffee shop, "for him and his family", near the upper gate of the princely palace (Curtea Domnească). The costs of this act of princely goodwill were limited to a rent of 10 Thalers a year. A decade later the ruler allowed the same businessman "to build in Bucharest three cahvenele with tahmisul (another Turkish word, meaning a place where the coffee is grind and roasted), free of the taxes paid by the other similar shops".


On the north side of St. Anthony Market on the corner of Covaci Street, is located the Old Café (Romanian: Cafeneaua Veche or Cafeneaua Domnească), another remarkable building of Bucharest - the coffeehouse build by Ştefan Altîntop in 1781. The coffee shop changed the owner in 1812, then in 1825. The coffeehouse has a very picturesque look: the white color of the walls is emphasized by the dark-colored roof and window-blinds. Under the cornice, a number of sober niches decorate the top of the facades, in contrast with the sophistication reliefs with portraits in the Renaissance style, placed between window archways. Doors, also signed with the arches in a semicircle, complete the picturesque ensemble. The interiors preserve some vaulted ceilings.


Today, the Old Café is called Monaco Lounge Café and was transformed into a restaurant with Mediterranean cuisine and at the basement a lounge with live blues concerts, jazz concerts, and original thematic parties...



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