Costumed revelers have snack in the famous Caffe Florian on San Marco square in Venice on February 14, 2009 at the beginning of the annual Venice Carnival Sensation 2009. (AFP/Vincenzo Pinto)
Caffe Florian, the oldest watering hole in Venice and a mecca for writers, artists and politicians, had hoped to spend December planning its 300th birthday party -- but instead faces ruin.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world-famous Italian city into a ghost town and, following on from last year's floods, left the popular cafe on St Mark's Square in dire straits.
"We will stay open for as long as we can, but we can do not more than that," managing director Marco Paolini told reporters on Friday, in a public appeal for government help.
"Venice is on its knees," he said, and "the activity of the Florian has been devastated".
Founded on December 29, 1720 by Floriano Francesconi, the cafe's clients have included everyone from Wagner and Proust to Nietzsche, Charlie Chaplin and Andy Warhol.
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These days it employs around 80 people, including the multi-lingual and always impeccably dressed waiters in their white tails.
"We wanted to organize a big cultural event to celebrate our 300th anniversary, but it was cancelled," he said.
Venice suffered a major setback last year when the tides reached historic levels, flooding the city. It was only just getting back on its feet when COVID-19 hit.
Since then, the absence of tourists -- the city's main source of income -- has plunged it into one of its darkest years in recent history.
"We are asking for help," said the manager, who represents a group of partners who own the cafe.
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