Streetsmart: Via dei Banchi
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Streetsmart: Via dei Banchi

Being a savvy sightseer in Florence is all about being ‘streetsmart’—taking note of the shops, sounds, scents and smiles that add atmosphere to a given area and lend a street its spirit.  Bridging piazza Santa Maria Novella with via Cerretani, via dei Banchi isn’

Thu 05 Nov 2015 1:00 AM

Bridging piazza Santa Maria Novella with via Cerretani, via dei Banchi isn’t so much a street as a steady stream of people passing through on their way to and from the Duomo. Cruise tourists in matching clothes filter through like clockwork; businessmen late for bar meetings beeline for Santa Maria Novella’s hotels. In the thick of it all are The Florentine’s offices, where we dutifully keep our eyes and ears peeled for the day’s proceedings. Take your blinders off the next time you’re rushing through: we’re biased, perhaps, but our home street has too much pizzazz to be viewed purely as a passageway. 


The ‘split personality’ of this corner coffee bar and eatery solidifies its local-institution status. Wake up with neighborhood workers over glazed pine nut pastries and bar banter. Midday, pop in for nice-price primi and see resident matriarch Piera work her mealtime magic. As the day winds down, watch as it transitions from traditional bar to touchstone Japanese joint. Though the bar maintains its daytime guise, the menu changes: Japanese chefs serve salty noodles and crisp beers on both sides of the building. Stop in for an evening experience that feels both familiar and a bit surreal.


Some family-run spots are so simple, with staff so pleasant, that their appeal is never dampened by cultural or generational differences. Call us sentimental, but Vini e Delizie is one such place. By day, stop in to shop their wide selection of wines and gift-basket goodies like cantucci and cheeses. Once the clock strikes 5, take a seat at their barrel tables and enjoy an inexpensive spread of happy hour snacks and sips. Nota bene for next year’s Notte Bianca: during past editions, the smiling team has been seen serving cold cuts and schiacciata on the street.


Troublemakers and would-be bank robbers, stand back: Antonio is the neighborhood’s stalwart safety steward, keeping watch over the Banca Etruria, breaking only for the odd macchiato at Bar Galli. But don’t let the uniform and authoritative stance mislead you: this good-natured guardian is a friendly conversationalist, happy to re-direct mixed-up map-toters or swap pleasantries with neighbors and drifters. His constant monitoring of our modest street has made us declare via dei Banchi the safest in Florence.  


Wear your expat hat long enough and you’ll likely decide all souvenir stands are created equal, never setting foot in any of Italy’s hundreds. But give this one more than a passing glance—not because you need another Dante mug, but to see their handpainted stone miniatures of Renaissance masters’ creations. Following models by Lucchese sculptor Mario Vincenti, store owner Sandra fashions fluorescent Davids, hot pink Venuses and golden-hued Marzoccos, the colors lending a pop-candy quality to these artisanal knick-knacks. 


7. Roberta Firenze Leather goods & Ties

6. Farmacia dei Banchi With miracle-working cough drops

5. The Florentine Our creative madhouse  

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