Most people, especially tourists, usually walk from Piazza Maggiore to Le Due Torri and, once the photos de riguer have been taken, turn right, heading to Piazza Santo Stefano, left towards the former Ghetto, or take Via Zamboni to reach the University area. They hardly ever keep walking through Via San Vitale and that’s a bit of a shame, because this way they miss the opportunity to explore the charming little streets and alleys that connect it to Strada Maggiore and that can offer some very pleasant surprises.
Take Via Caldarese, barely 30 meters of a narrow street and an actual gem. I had the chance to explore it yesterday after meeting for coffee with my friend and yoga pal Cinzia. We met at La balotta, technically still on Via San Vitale (less than one minute walk from the Two Towers) but on the corner with Via Caldarese. I’ve been meaning to write about this cute little cafe for a while now, since it opened, well, a year ago (I took my time and apologize).
Cozy and colorful, its surprises you with a book on each of its little tables, a gentle vibe from the guys at the counter, a remarkable cheesecake and some very nice lunch menus, including (but not limited to) vegan options. Its’ the typical place to go for an intimate chat or a relaxing pause, drinking tea or some organic wine.
Every time I go there I feel at ease, I like the sustainable/recycled décor and love to see which books are offered to the customers (an old edition of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen projected me straight to my early twenties). There’s also a little little corner devoted to sponsoring Leyla, “the objects’ library”, a cool project developed in Berlin and transplanted in Bologna where people can actually borrow an object (from drills to amps) and return it instead of buying it.
After coffee, before we parted, my friend mentioned another cafe, a new one, just round the corner, in the middle of Via Caldarese, and of course I had to go. But once I reached it I felt the urge, literally, to enter in the premises just in front. Meet Bottega Prata, aka the paradise of ancient manual craftmanship and old times’ fascination.
This (only apparently) little shop is actually a massive studio where objects and works of art are created out of wrought iron. Current owner Pierluigi Prata inherited the laboratory from his grandfather Antonio and kept it almost intact.
Every single bit of this fascinating, dim-lighted space is occupied by dark iron handiworks of working tools.
The owner allowed me to go explore downstairs and, funny thing, while I was going down the dark precarious narrow staircase a super spooky music started being played by the radio, and kept keeping me company while I entered the wide canteen filled with mirrors, chandeliers, curiously shaped creations and a couple of iron silhouettes that strategically projected their bigger doubles to the wall, in the shape of perfectly outlined shadows.
I was a little disappointed of not also seeing the famous shape of Nosferatu that both the music and my fantasy were so clearly asking for. But I still had chills: not out of fear but because such a display of manual work, artistry, devotion to the “uselessness” of some products and overall slightly medieval atmosphere can really give you goosebumps. Of enthusiasm in my case. And, if not that of Nosferatu, I at least enjoyied the view of some iron fish and their beautiful shadow.
I parted with Pierluigi with him recommending to go back next time “the fire is on” (of course I will), crossed the street and there I was at new cafe Rodolfo, whose vibe couldn’t be more strikingly different. Goodbye medieval cave and iron tools, welcome parrots and tropical wallpaper.
Opened just a couple of months ago and perhaps still a bit in search of identity, this bar has in turn a perfect design and decor, mixing and matching your overage vintage lamps and armchairs with taste and direction.
The place is colorful and comfy, with a visual outline more stylish and fashion-oriented than neighbor La Balotta (but an atmosphere not as warm) and lovely second-hand books with intriguing titles from the sixties and seventies eyeing from a graceful wooden cupboard from the Forties or hosting a tiny lamp from the Sixties.
Here’s another good place to stop for a fruit extract or smoothie and an aperitivo. Or, again, hide in the little room with the tropical décor and read a book under the supervision of the paper parrots. But definitely, definitely not before having enjoyed a little tour of the Prata lab in front. At least if you’re up for some local charm and unusual reminiscence of the arts and crafts from the past.
The whole “tour” of Via Caldarese could take easily three minutes as well as three hours: it depends on how long you want to indulge in the cafe you chose and how soon you’re turned off (or on) by the dark and destabilizing atmosphere at Prata. But it definitely makes for a nice little detour off the beaten track.
*Oh, about paper: just in front of La Balotta you’ll also find Maestri Cartai, a great shop that sells all kinds of wrapping papers, Japanese paper, paper objects, scrapbooking tools etc. It also organizes regular workshops on how to use and wrap and shape, yes you guessed right, paper.