Café Pamplona: a Hidden Gem

cafe pamplona

Specials of the day. Photo by Elise Grenier.

Café Pamplona is one of the best kept secrets in Harvard Square. When I say that it’s underground, I mean that it is quite literally underground; located on the outskirts of the square by the intersection of Bow Street and Arrow Street, the subtle sign and unsuspecting set of stairs are the only hints that this little gem even exists.

History of Café Pamplona

Although cafés line just about every street in Cambridge, this was not always the case. Café Pamplona was literally the first of its kind, as it boasts the title of Harvard Square’s oldest café. Café Pamplona was founded in 1958 by Josefina Yanguas, a native of Pamplona, Spain, and is said to have had the city’s first espresso-maker.

The regulars here are loyal, and sometimes famous—Al Gore, Bob Dylan, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman have all at one time or another been frequent customers of Café Pamplona.


The inside of the café. Photo courtesy of Café Pamplona.

The inside of the café. Photo courtesy of Café Pamplona.

With low ceilings, stone walls painted pale yellow, and a black and white checkered floor, Pamplona does not adhere to current decorative trends in the city, but rather transports its patrons to Spain in the late 1950s.

Café Pamplona even offers table service, which has become a lost tradition in most of café culture. The mood is academic, with students, writers and thinkers occupying each table to enjoy the peace, quiet and free WiFi.

Café Pamplona Food & Drink

Café Pamplona offers light European inspired sandwiches, salads and soups. They offer a variety of specials each day as well as a few seasonal items, including the white gazpacho, which is a personal favorite of musician Amanda Palmer’s.

What makes Café Pamplona stand out is, of course, the espresso drinks. Their signature drink is aptly named the Café Pamplona, and it consists of a shot of espresso with sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. Almost every drink is made by hand, as well as the rich chocolate syrup and sweetened espresso that goes into them.

The extensive beverage menu includes espresso drinks, teas, frappes, and Italian sodas, to name only a few. Seasonal favorites include ginger lemonade and fruit frappes.

cafe pamplona

Photo courtesy of Café Pamplona.

Those with a sweet tooth need not stop at lunch and a latte—Café Pamplona’s chocolate mousse is to die for. Other desserts include canolis, flan and cheesecake.

Location and Hours

Address: 12 Bow St. Cambridge, MA 02138
Hours: 11am to 12am daily

Café Pamplona is easily accessible by the MBTA Red Line at the Harvard Square stop.

[pw_map address=”12 Bow St. Cambridge, MA 02138″]