Remember Clowns with a smile, not a frown

Image credit: Lili Bidwell

Clowns, the once famous Cambridge institution, has now closed. What once was a homely animated restaurant, bursting with frivolity, is now an empty property, waiting dormant for the next owners to take over. The modern tendency to choose mass-production over originality, brands over independent establishments, strikes again.

Clowns was created in 1985 by Raffaele Sauchella, and quickly became a household name in Cambridge; a place to enjoy wholesome Italian cuisine for a reasonable price to a backdrop of an abundance of assorted clown figurines. The cafe was welcome to all except, perhaps, coulrophobics, though it was inspired by Raffaele’s favourite Leoncavallo opera, Clowns, and suitably celebrated the best aspects of Italian culture: the friendly, vivacious hosts; the hearty meals; the engaging conversation. The home of multiple swaps, parties and meetings, Clowns was well-known among Cambridge students; the perfect place to grab an evening coffee or a quick lunchtime lasagna, in a perfect setting that was just off the beaten track.

Run recently by Raffaele’s daughters, Genni and Michela, the cafe was always popular; a refreshing break from the standard sight of branded coffee houses which are spread across Cambridge like a plague, reeking of watered-down caffeine. Though Genni and Michela acknowledged that these cafes played a role in killing off their business, their main reason for closing was their father’s sudden illness, and their subsequent desire to take more care of him. Raffaele was the foundation of Clowns; the originator, the inspiration, the protagonist – when he became ill, it was impossible for the cafe to continue.

In typical Clowns fashion, though, the business exited in style, with two vast parties on 8th and 9th June, followed by an array of Facebook posts on their company page celebrating the 32-year success of the restaurant. As one asserted: “it's now officially a memory...the best one in our life's (sic)”; with the popularity of the establishment evident in the multiple recollections of treasured experiences included in comments below.

It is a grave misfortune for Cambridge that Clowns had to close; though Genni and Michela’s reasons for this are valid, those who were yet to experience Clowns have truly lost out on a remarkable, unique and vibrant institution. But despite this loss, the show must go on; with memories of the brilliance of the cafe, rather than a grief for its demise.  As Raffaele’s favourite opera goes: “Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina...tramuta in lazzi lo spasmo ed il pianto in una smorfia il singhiozzo e 'l dolor” (“Put on your costume, powder your face...turn your distress and tears into jest, your pain and sobbing into a funny face”).


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