Drink to Mafia's bad health at Rome's Dolce Vita cafe

ROME Mon Dec 19, 2011 11:54am EST

A man walks near the Cafe De Paris on Via Veneto in Rome July 23, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

A man walks near the Cafe De Paris on Via Veneto in Rome July 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

ROME (Reuters Life!) - During the heady days of the Dolce Vita in the 1960s, Rome's Cafe de Paris was one of the preferred watering holes of starlets and sultans.

Later, one of the places that gave the world the word paparazzi fell into decline along with the rest of Rome's famed Via Veneto and two years ago it hit bottom when police discovered it was a mafia money-laundering front and confiscated it.

It marked a rebirth on Monday when, in association with one of Italy's leading anti-Mafia groups, the famed sidewalk cafe and restaurant started serving wines, pasta and other foods produced on lands confiscated from the Mafia throughout southern Italy.

Now, visitors to Rome can eat and drink to the Mafia's bad health in the same place that inspired the late director Federico Fellini to make the classic 1960 film "La Dolce Vita," while helping Italy's anti-mafia movement.

"The new administrators want the cafe to offer products that are not only good but just," said Father Luigi Ciotti of the anti-Mafia group Libera, which runs cooperative farms on lands confiscated from the mob.

"This has great significance because this turns the whole situation of this place on its head," he said in the cafe that was one of the places from where actor Marcello Mastroianni set off to cover the jet set with his trusty sidekick photographer Paparazzo.

"It helps the search for trust and justice," he said as cafe, police and judicial administrators unveiled the collaboration with Libera, which will benefit from the purchase of the products.

Among other products, patrons can order red wine from the Centopassi cooperative near Corleone, the Sicilian hill town made famous in the Godfather films, or eat pasta made from wheat grown on property confiscated from organized crime near Naples.

In 2005, the Cosoleto clan of the 'Ndrangheta organized crime group from southern Calabria bought the Cafe de Paris, using it, along with other bars and restaurants it purchased in Rome and Milan, to launder drug money.

"What is happening here today sends a message of great social value," said Maurizio Occhiuto, one of two lawyers administering the Cafe de Paris on behalf Calabrian magistrates who ordered it confiscated in 2009.

The Cafe de Paris has between 30 and 50 employees depending on the season.

Most of the staff today are too young to remember the days of the Dolce Vita but they have all seen the film and are happy to work in a place that is part of movie history.

"We feel comfortable here. We are managed well. All our job rights are respected, we all think its better now," said one barman, who declined to give his name.

"We hope people will come here for the good service, for the history of the place and for the prestige and now because we are also giving a helping hand to the anti-mafia movement," he said.

La Dolce Vita," starring Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimee, was considered scandalous at the time of its release but is quite tame by the standards of today.

In seven loosely connected episodes, Mastroianni, playing reporter Marcello, covers the escapades of residual nobility, nouveau riche, starlets and hangers-on of the cafe set on the Via Veneto as he struggles to find meaning in his own life.

Marcello chronicles events with a photographer whose last name is Paparazzo: the name Fellini gave him is now in dictionaries in nearly every language meaning aggressive street photographers.

In its emblematic scene, Sylvia, a towering phosphorescent blonde diva played by Ekberg, lures Marcello into a sensual midnight wade in the cold waters of Rome's Trevi Fountain.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)

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