Milan, 1929. There is a revolution in the centre of the city: a new pavement in Piazza Duomo, the straight route from San Babila to San Fedele's apse; the Odeon Theatre building. Despite the crisis, overcome by the stockbrokers moving from Piazza Cordusio to Piazza Affari, the Milanese discover the first “Frigidaire” in the windows of Via Montenapoleone, and the first talking picture in Italy at the ‘Corso' Cinema. Publisher Mondadori launches its famous "giallo" mystery/thriller novels, and the theatre brings a Russian wave with "Boris" at La Scala, "The Living Corpse" and "The three sisters" (directed by Pitoeff) at the 'Manzoni' theatre in Piazza S. Fedele, and an adaptation of "Resurrection" at the 'Filodrammatici', in which Tatiana Pavlova was the star.
In the salons people talk about Thomas Mann and Italo Svevo, and Moravia releases a novel that was totally outside Mussolini's triumphalist climate: "Gli indifferenti".
And, in 1929, in Via Agnello, "a Santa Lucia" opens. This is the restaurant that launched Neapolitan pizza and cuisine in Milan, created by Leone Legnani, from Modena, who brought his extensive repertoire of Neapolitan recipes, with his wife Rosetta. Among the very first clients were D'Annunzio and then Mascagni, accompanied by the legendary Russian bass Scialiapin, who were at La Scala for "Boris".
Even more good fortune came with the Austrian dancers of the "Al Cavallino Bianco" revue by the Schwarz brothers – an incredible theatrical success at the beginning of the '30s – who were there every night, captivated by the delicious pizza, spaghetti and fish. The news of those excellent dishes spread and Joséphine Baker, the wild mulatta that had opened the nearby theatre "Giardino dell’Odeon", arrived.
Yves Montand, Sergio Tofano, Paolo Stoppa, Eduardo De Filippo, Totò, Wanda Osiris and the most important celebrities of the show business followed, and they voted "a Santa Lucia" as their meeting place after the show. Everyone has his place, like at Maxim's; everyone donates his portrait with a dedication and the walls fill up. In 1957, urban regeneration wiped out part of Via Agnello and "a Santa Lucia" moved to Via S. Pietro all'Orto, with its kitchen, its tables, all its furniture and even the original signage. And the show-business tradition goes on: Belafonte, Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Placido Domingo, Gassman, Mastroianni, Sordi, Maria Callas, Delon, followed by great football players, directors, TV stars. The portraits with dedications on the walls that wrap the guests in a wonderful celebrity atmosphere now number over 400 and keep increasing, because journalists, directors, actors, singers, businessmen from all over the world keep making reservations here.
Precisely because of the celebrities that patronised it, for its events, and its furniture and evidence of its origins, “a Santa Lucia” belongs to the Italian Historical Sites Association, that unites the 200 most ancient and prestigious restaurants, hotels, pastry shops / confectioners / literary coffee bars that are part of the history of our Country.
Today "a Santa Lucia" is run by Alberto Cortesi who, since the 1960s has been one of the most successful restaurateurs in Milan.
In the pictures:
Via Vittorio Emanuele in 1929 and "a Santa Lucia" in Via Agnello in 1957 (Civic Photographic Archives of Milan); the playbill of "Al Cavallino Bianco" (Achille Bertarelli's Civic Collection of Prints, Milan)