Soltrani smiles a lot, and he has a lot to smile about as the owner of one of
the most popular bars in Florence, Enoteca Sant’Ambrogio Caffè, situated in the
Santa Croce district. Born and raised in Iran, he first came to Italy as a
student back in 1976, where he studied scenography and interior design at the
Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. He still regards this city as one of the
most beautiful in the world, and he knows it like a local. Moreso, he is known
by all the locals!
the first to allude to the near impossibility of a comparison between Iran and
Italy on a cultural and social level. Thirty-six years after leaving his native
country and embarking on a new life in Europe, he has spent most of his adult
life here in Florence, where he has established his career, family and home.
A food lover
and design graduate, he took to the ground running and entered the bar and
restaurant industry, managing and owning a few different bars in town before
opening Caffè Sant’Ambrogio (www.caffesantambrogio.it)
21 years ago. Situated in the piazza of the same name, this bustling social hub
sits on the bee-line course from Piazza Beccaria, along via Pietrapiana and
straight into Piazza Repubblica.
about the challenges of starting and managing a thriving business, he cites his
friends and acquaintances who always tell him he works too much. He admits that
he rarely delegates, and if he does, he is often nearby to offer support. Even
with a full team of 10 including bar staff hailing from Florence, Albania,
Poland and Slovenia, alongside his wife
and daughter, he still works 5 of the 7 days a week that the bar is open.
daughter Sevil, born in Florence, works in the bar during the day. ‘We don’t
see a huge amount of tourists here as it’s off the beaten path for them and
mostly frequented by Florentines, who come to the bar for the great selection
of drinks and harmonious, friendly vibe. I live nearby and this is also where I
hang out when I’m not working,’ she admits.
This area of
the city, however, hasn’t always been such a cool spot. When Alessandro first
took over the property it was in a part of town referred to by some as the
‘Bronx of Florence;’ it was when traffic
still sped down via Pietrapiana and across what is now the pedestrian square,
which Alessandro has seen completely transformed over recent years.
test of time, both in terms of design and functionality, is much of the
‘timeless’ original bar structure that Soltrani designed 21 years ago and that still
confidently ‘sets the scene’ of his enoteca today.
Alessandro’s relationship with the Florentines, he has become a well-known
figure of the community (involved with several groups and initiatives including
the homegrown film fest, Festival dei Popoli) opening his doors to the world of
customers that frequent the bar. ‘It’s all about them,’ he says, ‘…the bar is
built on customers; they need to feel comfortable, happy and respected and I
always strive to offer them serious, good quality products. A lot of research
and testing goes on behind the scenes.’ Testament to Alessandro’s philosophy
and easy-going nature is the constant flow of people at the bar who go to enjoy
the impressive wine menu or get some lunch. The bar, however, it great for
seeing and being seen during the aperitivo, when people literally spill out
onto via Pietrapiana chit-chatting and socializing with drinks in hand, often
the Martini cocktail, which has become a flagship drink on the square.
The bar is
also a regular haunt for some of the Florence celebrity jet set, precisely for
the relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. On a busy Friday night you may even
find yourself being served a beer by Litfiba’s Piero Pelù!
One place in the city that inspires you.
Signoria, without a doubt; for me it represents the whole city.
Best cappuccino and brioche?
La Loggia on via Pietrapiana.
Best Bistecca Fiorentina or best restaurant
it would have to be Da Ruggero on via Senese, which was recommended to me by
the caretaker at the Accademia when I was a student so many years ago. I’ve been taking people there ever since! A
little further out of the city is a place in Doccia, Il Maccherone; aside from
doing an amazing bistecca, the whole
menu is traditionally Tuscan fare and everything is superb. I often take
friends and family there on a Sunday for dinner.
Favourite excursion fuori porta?
My house in
the countryside! I work in the centre of town in a bustling, energetic
atmosphere surrounded by lots of people, so my house, 15 minutes outside of
Florence, is a corner of paradise where I can relax. I have a large area of
land, including a football pitch! Then there is my pride and joy – my orchard –
where I grow my own vegetables. I try and cook something fresh every day at
Famous monument or tourist attraction that
you still haven’t visited.
To be honest,
I’ve seen most of the sights in Florence but I know there are several smaller
museums and churches that I’ve yet to see. I’ve never been to a match of Calcio
Storico Fiorentino, but that’s my own choice.
All the bad
words! Florentines seem to have one to fit every occasion, so there’s such a
rich variety to choose from.
One thing you will never get used to in
The dogs and
their litter on the streets. I’ve been here a long time, and the problem never
seems to have been confronted properly.
One thing the Florentines will always do
food here is among the best in the world.