Café Gijon has lured artists, writers and actors since 1888

Once a haunt of the greats from Ernest Hemingway to Salvador Dali and Hollywood beauty Ava Gardner, Madrid's famous Cafe Gijon may be nearing the end of its 120-year history.

Shaded under the tall trees of the Spanish capital's Paseo de Recoletos boulevard, the cafe's outside tables have lured artists, writers and actors since 1888.

But after surviving the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship, the Cafe Gijon may finally fall victim to Madrid's cash-strapped City Hall, which owns the terrace and has received richer offers for the concession.

Without the terrace, the cafe may not survive.

“The financial heart of the business is in the terrace, 60-70 per cent of profits come from the terrace,” said Jose Barcena, waiter and spokesman for the Cafe Gijon.

“The management has done its sums and if we lose the terrace the idea is to sell up,” he added.

“But who would buy a business without its main asset?”

The threat to the cafe, which employs 42 people, has provoked an uproar among intellectuals who still sit at the marble tables.

Before them, the roll-call of customers included Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca and filmmaker Luis Bunuel, Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, and American author Truman Capote.

“Dali used to swat flies on the terrace,” recalls 56-year-old Mr. Barcena, who has worked in the cafe for 38 years.

Only twice has the venerable cafe closed: during the Civil War from 1936-1939 when it became a canteen for Republican militia and then in the 1980s for renovation work, during which the terrace stayed open.

Intellectuals still debate in its august ambiance, with deep red velvet curtains drawn over plate glass windows, wood-panelled walls and a terrace with wrought iron chairs and tables.

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