Stick around San Niccolò long enough and you’ll pick up on a subtle rivalry between two of the area hangouts—one built more on affectionate teasing than real tension. Neither “Il Circolo” nor Il Rifrullo is in what the world would call a heyday anymore. But none of the loyal regulars at either spot seem to mind (or notice).
“Il Circolo”—officially the Unione Ricreativa Lavoratori di San Niccolò and the only active one of its kind in the center—is an intergenerational institution, a nucleus for neighborhood workers, and Fernando is one of its constituents di cuore. Stop in “any evening between 5 and 7,” he says, and you’ll spot him taking the devil-may-care approach to afternoon coffee.
Pressed for his perspective on up-the-road Rifrullo (officially “Il Rifrullo”, but nothing “official” goes over too great around here), Fernando chuckles. We gather that it’s always been the chicer haunt, and he explains that leanings (right or left, that is) have long dictated his generation’s hangouts.
Yet neither bar seems bound by something as banal as political posturing. The card-playing crowd in the Circolo’s back room is concerned only with hands dealt, cigarettes smoked and banter exchanged with the beauties camped out in the aptly named “angolo delle ciane”—that’s “Chatty Cathy corner” to non-native Tuscans. And over at Rifrullo, arguments mostly develop not on who’s winning the polls, but who’s getting the terrace seats.
Morning, when said terrace is usually closed, is probably the most pleasant time to watch the Rifrullo flow. Featured community member Janine Gaelle Dieudji grew fond of it over her three years of working in Clet Abraham’s studio around the corner, where she priced art, courted press and dealers, and cultivated a breakfast habit. Her choice of coffee home has remained constant amid professional and personal changes.
The place is also dear to longtime Tuscany residents Suzi Jenkins and Louise Holm Ferragamo, whose friendship blossomed during their shared shifts behind the bar in the late 1980s. It was the first job either of them had ever held in Florence, and an instant ticket to local social life: San Niccolò was the place to be, whether you fit better with the Circolo’s boot strappers or Rifrullo’s social strivers. Friendly foreign bartenders fell somewhere in between.
It takes a village, indeed.
Color photos by Michelle Davis / Black and white photos by Marco Badiani