La storia del Bagutta

It's nearly seventy but it doesn't show its age. Perhaps that's one reason why it's still BAGUTTA, the trattoria
of the Milan trattorias, and the restaurant of the Milan restaurants. It's simple, genuine, intimate, homely and different and for all these reasons the haunt of writers, painters, publishers, couturiers, top models, actors and actresses, poets and singers , businessmen and top managers from all over the world, plus doctors, photographers, journalists, lawyers, engineers and politicians. To mention the names of all the people who have eaten or eat there regularly, we' d need more pages than there are in this little book. But why do people go and eat at the BAGUTTA?
Because in this trattoria where the first Italian literary award was founded - today there are more than a thousand awards every year in Italy but BAGUTTA was the first - the food is good, the atmosphere is unique and fascinating in its originality and lastly, you feel at home there. The way it manages to make everyone feel at home is the most striking quality of this restaurant, founded in 1924, where Riccardo Bacchelli, attracted by the traditional bush (the sign of a drinking - and eating - place) hung over the door to attract the passer-by decided to stop and have a meal. He liked what he saw and went back again and again, every now and then taking his friends along with him. And they, too, seeing that the food was really good and the bill more than reasonable, became regular customers.

And so it was that this little trattoria, opened by Alberto Pepori from Galleno near Fucecchio, had by 1926 become a meeting place for writers, painters and joumalists.One evening they decided, for the fun of it, to introduce a system of fines. From then on, anyone who arrived late, missed a meeting, or abandoned the company at table for a lady-friend,had to pay a fine. One evening, Orio Vergani, a journalist who had already made a name for himself, and was to become very well-known indeed, said: "All right.I'll pay my fine, But why don't we set this money aside and then use the lump sum for a fund to be devoted to the author of the book we like best?

Recalling the foundation of the Award, the first literary prize in Italy,Vergani wrote in an article republished in the Corriere D'Informazione of 15 January 1977: "We paid one hundread lire each. The Bagutta Prize took shape in a big, coarse china dish, the sort used in trattorias which, even if they arent't unbreakable, don't chip easily in the sink. Now that so many years have gone by, it would be nice to be able to say it was born in one of those tiny plates that buskers pass around when they finish playing). Eleven hundred lire were collected in that china platter - the original fund, the first cash. For many years, it was the Baguttians themselves who saw to collecting the funds..." But how and when did the idea of an award arise? It was the evening of 11 November 1926. Paolo Monelli, anather well-known journalist wrote: Among the glasses - some full, some half-empty - on a piece of brown paper they wrote down the rules of Italy's first literary award. Only one of the judges was a teetotaller (Civilità del bere, November 1974).


The same evening, the painter Mario Vellani Marchi, one of the founders of the award, painted the caricatures of some the judges as they founded the award. He used the back of one of the yellow menus. Almost seventy years have gone by since then, many of its founders are no more, but the Award is alive and thriving and the "menus" have multiplied exceedingly. In fact, when the Baguttians decided to hold "gala dinners" in honour of someone who had distinguished him- self in some way - to cite only a few: De Sabata and Toscanini, Coppi and Wanda Osiris - Vellani Marchi was

called upon to immortalize the person in an allegoric "menu" signed by eve one present. Now there are a hundred and seventy of them and they adorn many of the walls of the rooms. A magnificent portrait of Mario Vellani Marchi (Modena 1885-Milan 1980) was sketched by Dino Buzzati, the novelist. "What did Vellani Marchi's menus consist of? Whenever a prize was awarded or an outstanding personage dined at the table of honour in the restaurant, when a writer or an artist was feted for his book, his exhibition or a theatrical success, the hospitality offered by the Baguttians received the elegant, flattering seal of a coloured drawing by Vellani Marchi, signed by all those present.

Thanks to his infinite inventiveness, this magni ficent artist succeeded, time after time, serving up "the object of the celebrations" in a new and surprising "sauce". The excellent likenesses, the gracefulness of the caricatures, the witty way in which their indivi dual activities and works are evoked in symbols, the pleasing colours, all help to make these little occasional pictures delightful works of art . For Vellani Marchi, it was little more than a game. But this game has given rise to a gallery of portraits that many collectionists would pay dearly to possess. In them you can read the history of the last 30 years of Italian art and letters - writers, painters,sculptors, architects, musicians, actors, dancers and set-designers, they are all there. They start with Bacchelli and end with Ingrid Bergam. (The last one was, in fact, Abbado).

"Once the space available in the rooms reserved for the Baguttians was filled, Vellani Marchi's "menus" began to overflow into the adjoining rooms. Today the whole trattoria is pleasantly decorated with them. Admission is free. If you don't know them, go and see them on the spot. You will realize that, even in the heart of a city founded on commerce and industry, the wit, friendship, sympathy, and intelligence of a small group of artists can keep alive a tradition of gentle, noble and honest urbanity." (Corriere d'Informazione, 17 March 1956)

The successful series opens with the composer Arigo Pedrollo when his opera" Crime and Punish ment" was presented at La Scala in November 1926. Particularly memorable were the evenings in honour of Riccardo Bacchelli on the publications of his novel 'Il Diavolo a Pontelungo' the dinner celebrating two books by Vergani, 'Le soste del capogiro' and 'Fantocci del carosello immobile', one published just a few days after the other, and the dinner for Ugo Ojetti, then editor of the Corriere della sera. On those occasions, gathered around the Bagutta tables could be seen the cream of the worlds of literature, art and journalism, not just from Milan, but from all over Italy. With the passing of time, the Bagutta became synonymous with art, culture and literature, which - they say - were served up with the meals ... And they add that, along with the smells of cooking, a perfume of poetry floats in the air. It is not at all unlikely - every sauce always contains a little. Be that as it may, in this restaurant you brea- the the air of literature, with all its limits but with no mystification of any kind. For instance one reason for the confidence in the Bagutta Award is the fact that the jury has never delegated any of its powers as, in the name of democracy, so many awards have done (resulting in the works being judged accord ing to fortuitous criteria unconnected with their intrinsic worth). On the cultural level you trust the good taste of the writers, critics, painters and journalists who form the jury, just as the diners trust the Pepori family. A national award but also a truly Milanese one, it does not need the imposing of the Campiello (the Ducal Palace in Venice) or the Strega (Villa del Ninfeo in Rome). It is awarded in all simplicity among the tables during a pause in the working week. That is why it has lasted so long, reaching its half- centenary and then its sixtieth anniversary and is still going strong.


Since 1927, the Bagutta Prize has been awarded every year. The only gap is a Bagutta Prize has been year. The only gap is a period between 1937 and 1947. Of course aftemards many other awards sprang up. Today there are over 1,300 literary awards in Italy. They all come from and after Bagutta. An aristocratic prize, awarded in winter unlike all the others in Italy that come in summer,it has no press office, no entry forms,no limitations as to literary genre and not even any regulations.

The Bagutta Prize has gone to essays, novels, short stories, poetry, memoirs and even an anthology of translations. It is the only award that has resisted pressure from publishing houses and it survives because it is simple and "unprofessional". Even the electoral machinery is simple . This simplicity has been so by all the journalists that have covered it over the years. It is the most precious quality of the Bagutta, which is awarded "in the middle of winter", as the journalist Giulio Nascimbeni wrote, "when it's foggy or there's snow in Milan and down the little street running parallel to Via Montenapoleone slip the ghosts of Panzini and Pirandello, Baldini and Marotta and all the others, some famous, some less well-known who over the years have dined under the convivial drawings of Mario Vellani Marchi " (Corriere d'Informazione, 15.1.77). And then the Bagutta never grows old. Every year it is covered by all the papers, particularly the the Milan dailies -La Notte, Il Giorno, Il Corriere and Il Giornale Nuovo . All praise, then, the judges who keep this award alive and present it each year pregnant with rich uncertainty.

FROM 5,000 TO 100,000 TO...

The size of the Prize has alwasys varied considerably. In 1927 it was five thousand lire. In the post-war peiod, the winners received a hundred thousand.And the cheque is still the same today, plus 5 million is view of the ' cost of living ' and a gold plate from the Banco Lariano. To this, it should be added that since 1977, the heirs of Giovanni Falck, the industrialist, see it that all the libraries of Lombardy, Friuli, Venezia Giulia and the region where the winner was born, receive a copy of the successful book. Created many years after the Goncourt and the Foe mina, first awarded in Paris in 1903 and 1904, the Bagutta Prize means great prestige for the author and above all ensures excellent sales. As indeed was the intention of its founders who, as we have said, had a whip round in order to present the first five thousand lire to Angioletti. Three thousand nine hundred, in fact , was given by Alberto Pepori and the remaning eleven hundred (a hundred lire each - Nicodemi hadn't got it on him and brought it the next day) were contributed by the eleven who certainly did not imagine that more than fifty years later the Prize would still be as young as ever, thanks to all its jury members.



Since its foundation the Bagutta has had many jury members. The original ones were Riccardo Bacchelli (unanimously designated "life president"), Mario Alessandrini, Luigi Bonelli, Adolfo Franci, Paolo Monelli, Antonio Nicodemi, Antonio Scarpa, Ottavio Steffenini, Mario Vellani Marchi, Antonio Veretti and Orio Vergani with the title "first jury member". Many years have gone by since that long-ago 11 November 1926, but the members of the jury, even though almost all its founder members are no more, have kept the original spirit intact. Being on a Bagutta jury has never been an easy task, as is shown by the ones who, over the years, have "left", sometimes because of pressure of work but more often because of arguments over ideals and literary contrasts. Bacchelli himself, "life president",at a certain point abandoned the post and for some years kept away from the Bagutta. It goes without saying that each abandon was the sign of a crisis, and the Bagutta has had many in its 70 years' existence. The most serious was when Orio Vergani died suddenly on 6 April 1960. Many were the jury members who thought about abandoning and many newspapers said that without its "First Juryman" there could be no more award and no more Bagutta. It was the sense of loss speaking, rather than an objective analysis of the situation. In fact after a series of talks and encounters, the evening of 9 April 1960, the jury gathered around the old table and decided unanimously that all would continue "as before". G. Titta Rosa was appointed chairman pro tempore and on the following 12 May the 25th Award was presented, the first after Vergani's death. The following year, at the istance of the new jury member Guido Vergani and at the unanimous invitation of the Jury, Bacchelli returned to the presidency. Years later he handed it over to Giansiro Ferrata, and then it passed to Mario Soldati.


No one has described the early days of the Award and the restaurant better than Orio Vergani. We will tahe one or two passages from his famous piece, republished by the Corriere d'Informazione on 15 January 1977. "For many years the Baguttians themselves saw to the collection of the funds and in the case of the "Day of Judgment" by G. B. Angioletti, the first award-winner, had the book printed at their own expense. They would sell rare book , autographs , paintings and drawings. Over a glass or two of Chianti , you could get an excellent bargain at the Bagutta auction. One evening a well - known producer of panettone bought a sketch by Amedeo Modigliani for 750 lire .. One evening they auctioned the kisses of Arturo Ferrarin, who had made a solo flight across the Atlantic. They fetched an average of about 30 lire each. An unknown girl paid 100 lire for one, asking to be kissed on the forehead, and then disappeared. Later it was discovered that it was her even ing off from... a brothel. The rest of our little story could be said to belong to the chroni cles of Italian literary life. None of the traditional Paris meeting places,from the Closerie des Lillas, to the Coupole to the Cafè du Dome or in the Existentialist heyday, to the Cafè de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp, had such a long life.

This is probably cause, though almost all most important Italian writers have sat at its tables Bagutta, has never been a school of literature,has never tried to establish a particular trend, has never imposed tastes or masters. This has fostered the lasting harmony of those who, for instance, one year chose the rondista ("La Ronda" was an early 20th century literary movement) Cardarelli and soon after the journalist Silvio Negro. The jury - readers paid attention only to the quality of the books. The great losers - the Bagutta jury has "failed!" writers of the calibre of Palazzeschi (the winner was Gadda), Moretti and Stuparich - know that the decision grew out of a free, affectionate debate. We do not wish to be considered 'standard - bearers' of literary awards. It is enough to know that,in all these years, our decisions were of interested ones: we have shouted, written 'harangued one another at the table of the old trattoria simply to be able, each year, to consecrate a new affection, a new esteem, with a little prize.


Bagutta is not just a trattoria and a famous restaurant, but a little museum sui generis. When some years ago in Milan it was rumoured that for various reasons it was about to close (the owners of the building wanted to use the premises for other purposes), all the newspapers - led by Indro Montanelli's Il Giornale - weeklies, radio and TV rose up declaring that it was "a centre of outstanding cultural and historical interes". This was recognized years later, on 20 December 1989, in Decree 961 of the Ministero del Beni Culturali which, in view of the decree of 5 May 1982 which recognized the outstanding interest of the building, bearing in mind that it houses a restaurant that is a landmark in Milan, Italian and international culture bringing together around i traditional Tuscan table a brotherhood of Italian and foreign artists and literary figures, that it houses a series of paintings, drawing, frescoes and important sculptures, that the Jury of the Bagutta Literary Award meets there, that the award has numbered the major Italian writers among its winners in a sequence covering several decades decreed, in view of articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 d 11 of Law no. 1089 of I June 1939, that "the particularly important Interest of the old business knows as the Bagutta Restaurant" should be recognized "and therefore considera it covered by all the provisions for protection contained in that law".

When all is said and done, Bagutta has always felt it was an historical monument. It learnt the news "officially" when in 1984 an exhibition of the most representative Italian restaurants was opened in Paris. It learned then that it was numbered with Savini's and the Camparino in Milan, Florian's in Venice (Byron, Foscolo, Gozzi, Parini and Manin all ate there), Baldi's in Genoa (there Garibaldi drank a last glass of wine before sailing on the great expedition that was to unite the South to the rest of Italy), or Daniele's, the Colomba in Venice, the Café Greco in Rome and the Charleston Mazzara in Palermo, Margherita's in Viareggio, Pedrocchi's in Padua and one or two others. This excellence as a restaurant or its being - in the words of so many newspapers - the flower in Milan's buttonhole - has perhaps accentuated the cordial simplicity which is at the same time courtly and unassuming in the way it welcomes you.


Bagutta is a landmark not only for writers, literary figures and people in the publishing world, but also for many painters and in general for contemporary Italian painting. Proof of this was the exhibition of "Bagutta's painters" in 1978 at Villa Simes, the fabulous exvilla Contarini at Piazzola del Brenta. Few of its founders were presenta for the best of reasons, but their spirit was still alive.These Bagutta painters belonged to the "Burano school". There they used to spend long months of silence and work alongside writer friends such as Diego Valeri and Giovanni Comisso either with Pio Semeghini or at the home of Umberto Moggiòli, the "Franciscan painter of stars and water". Not only did they meet most evenings or two or three times a week at the same table Burano or at the Bagutta in Milan and have i common their discove and painting of Burano and the way they linked the fog of Milan to the greyish tone of the lagoon, but they shared a skill in fixing moments of absolute joy, truth and art in identical atmosphere.Their names? It's a long list.

We must mention Steffenini, Bucci, Barbieri, Labò,Arata, Monti, Salietti, Tallone, Enzo Morelli, Novelle, Vellani Marchi, Palazzi, Leonardo Borgese, Gigiotti Zanini, Colognese, Vagnetti, Semeghini, Spilimbergo, Cavallet, Lilloni and all the others united by that "Bagutta spirit" which bound and still binds together so many sensitive anti-conformist artists, capable of remaining outside all the "isms" and all the fashions. The price to be paid gets higher and higher. It is not easy to be oneself in absolute simplicity.


It is a gift, however, that the Peporis have always had. Enzo, the eldest of the Pepori brothers, recalled the origins of the trattoria in an interview given to the Lugano Gazzetta Ticinese (11.11.79). "It was a simple place... you know what I mean,a place where masons and cabbies used to come.As you came in, you saw the wine barrels. In the kitchen there was mamma, bless her heart, and all of us doing the waiting. Those little lowceilinged rooms were always thick with smoke. But one day came Bacchelli, and everything changed...... How true that was. The Peporis have always been aware, the interviewer adds, that without the affectionate presence of writers, painters,and journalists their restaurant would never have become famous.And they were all fond of those penniless artists. In fact, when in 1936 the trattoria moved from no. 4 to no. 14 and the Peporis asked their painter friends to fresco the walls, Vellani, Novelle, Resentera, Semeghini, Colognese, Steffenini, Palazzi and Morelli didn't have to be asked twice. And when De Chirico, Casorati, Soffici and other "great men" were passing through Milan, even they left a token of their presence. In more recent times, other well-known painters such as Mnguzzi, Spilimbergo, Brotto, Cesetti, Calvani, Egitto, Vernizzi (father and son), Manzi and Luciano Francesconi have left several souvenirs behind them.


Some years ago, Vellani Marchi passed on and now the menus are the task of the most popular Italian illustrator, the modest and likeable Tabet who reated the unforgettable poster of Rossella O'Hara for the film Gone with the Wind. Many of the people who come to the restaurant ask about this painter of magnificent portraits and observe him from afar while he dines or converses in the "artists' room". Sitting beside him can often be seen Luciano Francesconi, a member of the Bagutta jury and a talented artist whose drawings appear regularly in the Corriere della Sera. Of the Bagutta's many rooms, the one reserved for the artists, with its long rectan lar table, is the one that attracts most attention. And on gala evenings, the central place at this table is reserved for the guest of honour, surrounded by painters, writers, publishers, singers and friends. Many celebrated people however prefer to sit in the other rooms and mix with the general public, sometimes vying for this or that table near the little room, while the owners' friends sit at the Pepori's table at the back of a room on the left as you go in. This is perhaps the meet "exclusive" table in the restaurant: there you can always meet an amusing assortment of mankind - writers, painters a likeable local policeman, a man in insurance, the San Babila florist... and of course journalists and painters, above all habittués like Tabet or Francesconi. None so frequently, though, as Novelle who, for over fifty years lunched or dined at the Bagutta at least four times a week, enchanting everyone with his verve. Born in 1901 at Codogno, as Renzo Cortina always said, "fortunately he never grew up".


This article, the seating arrangement and the reproduction of Vellani Marchi's famous postcard appeared in the Corriere della Sera on 4 March 1984 under the head-line "Politics and finance sit down together. An exceptional dinner in the restaurant of artists and literary figures". The occasion was the "Meeting for the Future" organized by the Confindustria President.

The venue for the extremely rare convivial
encounter of so many leaders of the nation was paradoxically - the least "political" restaurant, the one dedicated to the celebratíon of art and literature - the Bagutta. It is strange, in any case, that as its inn-sign this well-known restaurant where you meet Milanese fashion, eat Tuscan-style and pay the Roman way (or go Dutch) has always had another kind of "great supper", the one reproduced above in the famous vignette. Thejury-table which in 1927 created-the Bagutta Award was, from left to right on the postcard: Vellani Marchi, Steffenini, Alessandrini, Monelli, Vergani, Bacchelli, Franci, Bonelli, Scarpa, Veretti and Niccodemi. Eleven in all even if arranged in imitation of Leonardo's famous Last Supper. The seating arrangment for the public figures that made up the great table around Sandro Pertini is not simple to explain or identify. The only nucleus that stands out clearly is the central one on the side nearest the wall, composed of President Pertini with Cardinal Martini on his right and Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti on his left.

Other groups of three can be picked out but not clearly enough 1,2 exclude other criteria. Opposite Pertini, for instance, there was Craxi with Merloni on his right and Agnelli on his left. But, if we take Spadolini as a centre, we have Tognoli on his right and Merlani on his left. The dinner, it goes without saying, was dominated by Pertini's high spirits. One of the President's opening sallies, it is true, seemed pemeated by the disappointment he had expressed that morning over the dearth of young people at the Confindustria conference. We mention it because, in a jesting manner it underlines Pertini's desire that young people be given every opportunity to particípate. As soon as he stepped inside the Bagutta, after greeting the surviving Pepori brothers, Mario and Adriano, the owners of the restaurant, Pertini explained to Merloni - who had stepped forward to greet him - the reason why he was late. "I've been in the Gallery, having a drink with a pretty little French girl". And Merloni, "leaving me here with the politicians!". And Pertini, under his breath: "All good-looking young men..."

Luciano Visintin


This restaurant with its world - wide fame is, something rare, also an "entry" in a number of dictionaries and encyclopedias. In his well - known 'Dizionario Moderno', Alfredo Panzini defines it as: "Award founded in 1927
by joumalists and artists to aid the launching of youthful geniuses". The definition given by the Dizionario Enciclopedico Treccani and the Lessico Universale Italiano published in 1969 by the Treccani Foundation is detatched and objective. On p.546 of the second volume it says:"Milan trattoria, meeting place for artists, writers, journalists, very wellknown for the Bagutta literary award - the first instituted in Italy -which has been assigned annually since 1927 to a work by a contemporary Italian writer by a jury composed of the most well - known habituès of the restaurant.


Spacious, compared of various rooms and a large garden, it can seat over two hundred. The service is faultless. Maitre and waiters look after the customer. The menu includes about forty homely dishes (sausages and Tuscan beans, black cabbage soup, tripe alla fiorentina, braised beef) or more elaborate ones (fonduta cheese with truffles, cod alla vicentina, and so on) besides the starters. And everything is good.


Among the chacters who populate the Bagutta, the most reting, discreet and reserved are the Peporis, the heirs of Alberto, by his friends affectionately called "Pepori I". They were pulling his leg a little but they were not far wrong.He undoubtedly created a restaurant and founded a dynasty, simple, affable, retiring and wise like him. Alberto was a quiet, serene mum, strict with his children, exceptionally active and full of humanity. His wife, known as "Sora Giulia", was a bright, kind woman. In 1956 she too passed on after spending more than thirty years of her life at the kitchen stoves. The fame she shared with the restaurant did not make her abandon her cooking.Like her husband, she had realized at once just what those first young writers and artists who had come with and after Bacchelli had meant, with their talk of art, painting, journalism, and sculture.

"They were a noisy group who ate a lot and wanted to pay very little" said Orio Vergani, writing about Sora Giulia the day she died (3 August 1956: Corriere d'Informazione). In that tiny place, "Sora Pepori and her husband were used to serving the horsecab drives whose stand was at San Babila, the flower-seller who after all these years is still them selling roses and gladioli and peach blossom in the shade of the old colonnade and so they understood that that noisy band of little-known young men deserved affection and respect. They realized too that Bacchelli, who had already discovered the Pappagallo restaurant in Bologna, knew a great deal about food and eating well. Before her eyes had passed half the history of Italian literature.

Sora Giulia, half mother, half elder sister to them, was willing to wipe out the debts of the penniless and never inclined to flatter the arrogant. Beautiful women, famous actresses, actors and writers, Emma Grammatica and Lucia Bosé as a young girl, an unknown Lollobrigida, Ingrid Bergman with her Swedish school - girl' s face, Marinelli and Carlo Carrà, Lilla Brignone and Diana Torrieri, Marta Abbe and Vera Vergani, Renato Simoni and and Giorgio Strehler, Felim Casorati and Giorgio De Chirico, Luigi Pirandello, Dario Niccodemi, Giovanni Papini, Ardengo Soffici, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Renato Simoni... they had all sat at her table. A good woman who treated them all as her children, who loved all her regulars, successful or not... Good night, Sora Giulia... She brought up a big family of children of her own and another family of thousands and thousands of Baguttian's...". Her first chld (she had six: Natale, Enzo, Italo, Adrieno, Mario, and Felicità) became Pepori II.

Alongside him, Natale had a wonderful wife, Sora Bianca, who fitted instinctively into the place left by Sora Giulia.Today she is still in the kitchen, preparing her dishes and overseeing all kinds of work (in 1984) she was awarded an Ambrogino d'Oro, the highest distinction given by the Milan City. Council to its most industrious citizens, to those who have made the city great).Enzo, too, another extraordinary Pepori, always worked hard.He had a fondness for painting and for horses, a kindly generous man who, when he received an order of merit, had the honour of seeing himself portrayed in a famous menu by Mario Vellani Marchi. Today the restaurant is managed by "Pepori III " a kings shared by Adriano and Mario who, rather th devoting their lives to the medicine and pharmacy in which they took their degrees, have chosen their beloved restaurant in order to carry on the magificent, extraordinary Bagutta fable. There, among other thigs, they keep alive the love of scopone (playing the game with four cards on the table). Adriano and Mario are in fact keen players, Usually they play late in the afternoon or in the evening after eleven. Playing with them you will often , see Mario Soldati and a few other favoured customers, including the journalist Antonio Dini and Corrado Pizzinelli who thought up, wrote and edited this booklet.

Corrado Pizzinelli

(italiano) - (deutsch)

" (The Restaurant // Trattoria Bagutta) "