As you enter the piazza, you'll see a big arch with an inscription on top (shown in the photo). It refers to this area of Florence as squalor that had to be cleaned up and given new life. What was once an important market center in medieval times became the modern Piazza della Repubblica when Florence was the capital of the newly unified country of Italy (1865-1871).
Piazza della Repubblica is ringed with cafes with outside tables (with high service charges) used mainly by tourists. Florentines still frequent the cafes but you'll find them inside where prices are lower, according to Kristin Stasiowski of Context Florence.
Two cafes on the square are major cultural monuments. Donnini Pasticceria has the best coffee in Florence (and great pastries), according to Kristen. It's one of the historical cafes where intellectuals and writers used to hang out in the late 19th century. Inside you'll see old pictures of Florence.
Next door is Giubbe Rosse, filled with contemporary art. It's stocked with newspapers, magazines, and news of cultural events. Inside, the popular lunch buffet is 5 euro and in the evening there's an antipasto buffet that comes with the price of a drink, 4 euro for a glass of prosecco (prices as of fall, 2008). There's no service charge at either place for sitting inside but remember that you'll pay a hefty price for outside service.
Our walking tour ends here. You can go inside Donnini for a coffee or if it's late enough, go into Giubbe Rosse and enjoy an apertivo.
To return to Piazza San Marco, exit the square the way you came in. Turn left on Via dei Calzaiuoli, pass through Piazza San Givoanni and continue straight. This becomes Via Cavour and leads to Piazza San Marco.