It may seem like one of the many bars in Brera, those with a few tables outside and the waiters inviting you inside. Instead, it is one of the most famous and unique places in Milan: a place that preservers the history and the culture of the city.
To know also the other bars, pubs and clubs to see during your stay, we suggest to read our itinerary Drinking Milan.
It is 1921 and a bar in the centre of Brera opened. Inside, in addition to tables and chairs, there is only a phone and an espresso machine.
In 1921, it was not known as Jamaica yet.
It was musicologist Giulio Confalonieri who gave it the name that over the years has become synonymous with Milanese art and culture. It is said that the Confalonieri made a parallelism between the Brera bar and the British Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Jamaica Inn.
The success of the movie, the favourable position and the cultural ferment of those years allowed the Jamaica to become an important hub for artists and social leaders.
The first of many famous individuals who was a habitué is known for his historical importance: it’s Benito Mussolini, who used to go to the Jamaica to drink a coffee and to check the articles of his newspaper. First habitué and first borrower as well: in 1922, he disappeared without paying the bill.
The real cultural bustle started in the late 40s, when Elio Maini, the bar owner, organized an art exhibition named the Post-Award Guernica. All students of the nearby Academy of Brera stopped by to observe the works of this artistic movement who called itself “Brain Consortium” and who had taken part in the exhibition.
The paintings featured strongly communicative patterns, aimed at raising a restless wonder in the viewers.
Despite the criticism from traditionalist judges, the exhibition showed and sanctioned the role of the Jamaica as Milan’s artist coffee. A role that the bar will adopt for a very long time. Fontana and Manzoni used to drink a glass of wine before devoting themselves to the study of their works, as well as Quasimodo and Ungaretti.
Among painters and writers, there was also a woman, Elio’s mother, known as “Mamma Lina”. Both wealthy and generous, she paid all the artists’ debts and always granted them with a tasty cup of Jamaica’s most excellent wine. And there were many great wines in the bar. The superb selection was due to Elio’s attention towards new culinary trends and recipes, who wished to spoil and pamper his customers.
He brought to Milan the carpaccio and it was him, alongside with Gualtiero Marchesi, to open the first Italian school of sommelier.
Today, Elio has passed away, but Jamaica continues to offer elegant and sophisticated tastings, always at pace with the newest trends.
Elio’s wife, Vittoria, his daughter Micaela and his granddaughter Carlina run the place today. Vittoria is aware that time has changed and she always says that Milan is no longer her beloved city.
Maybe she’s right and maybe Milan will no longer be the capital of culture as it was in the ‘60s.
For sure, though, the Jamaica has kept its spirit intact, both in its culinary and in its artistic proposal.
During the year, in fact, photographic exhibitions are planned with Milan as main theme. Uliano Lucas’ personal exhibition is an example of such a cultural fervour.
The menu is ready to surprise you as much as the photos. If you decide to go for a drink you can taste sandwiches, carpaccio and appetizers that are served along with your cocktails. Opt for a classic spritz or negroni, or ask the waiters for a piece of advice.
If you prefer a dinner, head upstairs. Few people are aware of the second floor and, therefore, it is not crowded and its atmosphere is extremely intimate and private. We suggest you to start your dinner with an appetizer made of burrata and tomatoes or of fried dumplings. The carbonara is among the best you can try in Milan, even if it belongs to the Roman tradition. The wine selection respects Elio’s wills.
Bar Jamaica website: www.jamaicabar.it