Harry’s Bar in Venice, the famous restaurant-bar, was a favourite haunt of the rich and famous and was opened in 1931, by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani.
Harry’s Bar in Venice s especially renowned for its creation of Bellini and Martini cocktails and the dish Beef Carpaccio; but also serves Italian classic dishes, all at a remarkably high price. In 2001, due to its international reputation, Harry’s Bar was declared a national heritage by the Italian Ministry of Culture Affairs.
The bar is a relatively small place of only 45 square metres, situated at the waterfront end of Calle Vallaresso, close to St Mark’s Square and overlooking the southern end of the Grand Canal.
At the time of opening, the bar was located in a dead-end street, because the bridge that connects the street with the “Molo” and St Mark’s Square, was not present. Cipriani thought that this was a positive thing, because the bar would have clients coming there only for the bar and not stumbled across by passers-by!
Even today, the bar does not look particularly inviting from the outside, whilst the interior is rather conservative, but timeless. The small interior means that celebrities have to be noticed!
An interesting story about how the opening and naming of “Harry’s Bar” came about; was recalled by Guiseppe Cipriani…….
A young American student Harry Pickering, came to Venice with his aunt in the 1920’s, to treat his alcohol addiction. Apparently, Harry was left alone by his aunt in Venice without money; after a fight.
Giuseppe Cipriani, bartender at the Europa & Britannia hotel where Harry was staying, gave 10.000 lire to this young man to help him to get back to the USA. After two years, Harry came back to Venice, cured of his drink problems and gave Cipriani the money he borrowed from him, plus an extra 30.000 lire to help open his own bar. Cipriani decided to name his place “Harry’s Bar”, as a gesture of gratitude to Harry Pickering and was opened on May 13th 1931.
Cipriani’s venture had an immediate success, building up a clientele drawn from the intellectual, the wealthy and the aristocratic. The first and last “Guest Book” contains amongst others, the signatures of Rino Amato, Arturo Toscanini, Georges Braque, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin, Peggy Guggenheim, Barbara Hutton, Somerset Maugham, Gregoire Hetzel, Barbara Carlotti, Mauro Gioia AND Orson Wells.
LEFT: Arrigo Cipriani, son of Giuseppe, runs the bar since 1980.
It is reported that the bar had some issues with the fascist authorities of the time; due to certain clients who attended the place. The bar was seen as a meeting point of rich Jews and homosexuals. With the racial laws of 1938, Cipriani was obliged to display in his bar the sign to ban Jews. He was able to bypass that order by displaying the sign on the kitchen door and not on the bar door.
During WW2, the bar became the canteen for sailors; only restarting “business as usual”, at the end of the war.
During the winter between 1949 and 1950, the American writer Ernest Hemingway, became a permanent client. He had his personal table and befriended Cipriani. Over that period, he was putting the finishing touches to his book “Across the river and into the trees”; in which Harry’s Bar is often mentioned.
LEFT: The famous writer Ernest Hemingway.
The establishment was also briefly mentioned in the second and subsequent editions of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited (in the first edition Waugh simply called the bar “the English bar”). It was a frequent haunt of principal characters Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, during their time in Venice.
Its reputation was built on the premise that, “There are bars that have invented famous cocktails. There are restaurants that have invented famous dishes. There are very few places that have done both”.
The Bellini cocktail, a mixture of white peach juice and sparkling prosecco, was named after the 15th century Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini. The dish of Carpaccio of Beef, a plate of trimmed sirloin sliced wafer thin and dressed with a touch of mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice. It was said to have been invented for an Italian Contessa, who was on a diet free of cooked meat. It was also was named after the Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio; who was famous for his love of deep reds.
Apart from the Bellini, Harry’s Bar is also famous for its dry Martini, which is served in a small glass without a stem. Their dry martinis are very dry, apparently with the ratio of 10 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. This is an adaptation of the Montgomery Martini, which is 15 parts gin to 1 part of dry vermouth.
Today Harry’s Bar is, “the anchor to a global brand, positioned around the Cipriani name.”
In New York City, the Cipriani’s run the restaurants Harry Cipriani, Cipriani 42nd Street and a travel and catering company. Buenos Aires is home to three more outlets; whilst In Venice, the Cipriani’s also own Harry’s Dolci. The Cipriani brand also includes lines of pastas, sauces, olive oils, coffee, books, and kitchenware.
In 2007 the Cipriani’s pleaded guilty to tax evasion in the USA. In 2012, with debts of over €6m, the bar was sold to Luxembourg-based investment group Blue Skye.
Finally, Celebrity chef, TV presenter and film-maker, Anthony Bourdain was said to be of the opinion that, “you get a pretty good plate of food and the Bellini’s are just fine. They just cost a f- -k of a lot“.
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