The History of the Italian Village Restaurants

Alfredo Capitanini, Founder of The Italian Village in ChicagoIn 1924, Italian Village founder, Alfredo Capitanini, emigrated from Florence to Chicago. For three years, he worked mornings as a dishwasher and evenings as a cook at two different Italian restaurants in the Loop, earning the money that would enable him to begin a restaurant of his own. His ambitions were high, and on September 20, 1927, Alfredo opened what would eventually become a landmark in the Chicago dining scene.

When it first opened, The Village had perhaps the most comprehensive Italian menu in Chicago. While noted Southern Italian favorites such as pasta with red sauce and eggplant parmesan were a staple in the Chicago-Italian dining scene, Alfredo introduced dishes from other areas of Italy, such as cannelloni, manicotti, saltimbocca ala romano and fettuccini alfredo. Whether seated under the twinkling “stars” of the Tuscan night sky, or in one of the many themed booths, like “La Banca” (the Bank) or “La Prigione” (the Jail, where Al Capone is rumored to have dined), guests were able to take a veritable culinary tour of the different regions of Italy. Additionally, one of Alfredo’s own creations, Chicken Vesuvio, has made its way onto the menus of Italian restaurants all over the world.

With business booming, July of 1955 saw major changes come to 71 W. Monroe Street. Second generation Capitaninis Frank, Ray and Ave joined Alfredo in the family business and helped to create the second restaurant, La Cantina. Rather than rest on the laurels of having just one successful restaurant, La Cantina sought to repeat the success of the Village. It is perhaps in La Cantina that the Italian Village’s high pedigree of wine service is most readily apparent; the entire restaurant is adorned with decades-old wine bottles, wooden wine crates, wrought iron gates, decanters and other ephemera that invokes a limestone-hewn wine cellar.

In 1961, building on the success of La Cantina, a third restaurant, The Florentine Room, was built into the ground floor of 71 W. Monroe Street. Modeled on classic Florentine architectural motifs, the pale blue room became Chicago’s first gourmet Italian restaurant, firmly establishing Italy’s place in the gastronomic Pantheon for the people of the city. The accolades were many and soon The Florentine Room was named “Chicago’s Best Italian Restaurant” by the Chicago Tribune.Owner Gina Capitanini at Italian Village Restaurants

Nearly 30 years later, in 1990, The third generation began to stake its claim on the family business when Gina, Al and the younger Frank Capitanini took the reins. Symbolic of this shift in leadership, The Florentine Room entered the cocoon of construction, and under the direction of world-renowned designer, Jordan Moser, emerged as Vivere. Along with a new name, the restaurant gained a decidedly whimsical and fantastic quality; adorned with curvy, swirling architectural lines, brass fixtures, stained glass and dark, velvet curtains. The room itself lent a theatrical quality to the dining experience that was perfect for those guests about to attend a show in one of the area’s many theaters. However, amidst the renovations, Vivere’s commitment to culinary excellence remained the same: paying homage to the classic dishes of the past by interpreting them through the lens of modern trends and techniques.

Now operated by third generation owner, Gina Capitanini, The Italian Village Restaurants remain both a driving force and a means of measurement for success in the Chicago dining scene.

No visit to the Italian Village Restaurants would be complete without an excellent bottle of wine from our famous cellar. Though the Italian Village wine list is one that spans the globe, it has a strong Italian focus that is authoritative in its scope. As one of the largest restaurant-based wine cellars in the Midwest, our cellar holds over 35,000 bottles for a total of 1,100 selections and has received awards every year from Wine Spectator for well over 30 years. The cellar is also precisely climate controlled (57 F for reds, 47F for whites), ensuring that your bottle, whether it is $40 or $4,000, is properly stored and properly served.

During the day, it hosts guests from all over the Loop, including those in the legal and finance sectors and at night, it welcomes hungry guests on their way to the opera, a play or a musical. Italian Village Restaurants AwardsThe Italian Village is also a premier destination for travelers from all over the globe and has been featured on WTTW’s Check Please! Vivere chefs participate in Restaurant Week on a yearly basis as do Village chefs in Bacon Fest.Italian Village Restaurant Baconfest Award Italian Village as a whole remains active in its community by sponsoring Ferrari Fest, a fundraiser that utilizes high performance sports cars to raise money for Lurie’s Children’s Memorial hospital and the Inspiration Corporation. Please stop in soon and let us take care of you like one of the family!