There were about 40 taverns in Renaissance Florence spread throughout the city – with names like the Hole, the Tavern of Hell, the Refried Lard, the Wicked Woman, the Bear’s Cave, the Golden Flask. They were charged hubs of eating, drinking, networking and information sharing for all classes of men. They feature many times in poetry and short stories. There’s one funny sixteenth-century oration by an elite Florentine who takes his audience on a tour of the city’s drinking dens in search of a glass of wine, a kind of virtual pub crawl. What this tells us is that Florentine men carried around a mental map of the city’s taverns, that they were one of the junctions of everyday urban social life (see also Politics and People: Sex and the city).
Giovanni, as he says, liked to stop in at the Borghetto on his way home from work, and we think this tavern, listed in a 1561 census of shops, was under the volta or archway. Giovanni would have been a regular at a tavern in his home turf of Sant Ambrogio, too, probably the one located at the streetcorner beside the church. For artisans and labourers, we know how important these places were through the potenze. Many of these brigades met in taverns, and on occasion they elected tavernkeepers as their kings. Artisans cultivated these men for the resources they represented – not just wine, but also because they were social mediators. Usually slightly better educated in a world where literacy was low, tavernkeepers sometimes found themselves being asked to write letters or sign receipts for their customers and friends.
Taverns were also contested spaces. The authorities were always suspicious about lower-class men organising there politically. There were moral tensions too. Preachers railed against taverns as dens of iniquity in which men wasted their money. Giovanni talks about playing dice, which was seen as one of the biggest problems. In 1501, three years after the death of the radical Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola, and with Florence still under the influence of his apocalyptic teachings, the case of Antonio Rinaldeschi became exemplary. Rinaldeschi became so enraged after losing at dice in the tavern of the Fico that he threw horseshit at an image of the Virgin. He was hanged from the windows of the justice building, the Bargello.
To cite this essay, we suggest:
David Rosenthal, ‘Tavern tales’ published online 2013, in ‘Hidden Florence’, The University of Exeter, https://hiddenflorence.org/stories/giovanni/6-tavern-tales/
William J. Connell, and Giles Constable, Sacrilege and Redemption in Renaissance Florence: The Case of Antonio Rinaldeschi (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2005)
Beat Kümin and B. Ann Tlusty, eds., The World of the Tavern: Public Houses in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002)
David Rosenthal, ‘The Barfly’s Dream: Taverns, Community and Reform in Early Modern Italy’, in D. Toner and M. Hailwood, eds., Biographies of Drink: A Case Study Approach to Our Historical Relationship with Alcohol (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), 14-29