Hemingway hung there; so did Bogie and Bacall and Orson Welles. Harry’s Bar is a slice of dinner-jacket elegance amid the t-shirt tourist crush of Venice. I had missed it on a previous visit and was not about to make that mistake again.
Founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, Harry’s looks from the outside like a typical corner bar anywhere, minus the neon beer signs, but it’s right on the San Marco waterfront. The name is printed on the frosted windows, and the unassuming entrance is on Calle Vallaresso. Before entering, I stood outside awhile, at the San Marco/Zattere vaporetto stop, and watched the tourists ramble by. Most were oblivious. Occasionally a group would notice the name and stage some snapshots. A stylish young mother waited in the calle with her daughter while dad went in for his quick, obligatory Bellini.
That’s the bar’s signature drink, named for the Renaissance painter, a mixture of peach juice and Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. And of course I had to have one, even at €15. The bartender, decked out in white jacket and tie, cheerfully said, “Of course, why not?” as if it were not the 45,000-th time he’d filled that order. And as he whipped it up, the lovely, older British woman on the stool next to me started chatting me up: Where are you from? Why are you visiting? I was about halfway through my Bellini when two female students from California Institute for the Arts took the end of the bar, near the door, and commenced sketching the scene with Prismacolor pencils.
In this way they earned themselves drinks, courtesy of Gabriel, the barkeep, who was charmed by his portrait. But it was the elegant British dame they were after, in her understated black cocktail dress, as we continued to blather about Venice and art and politics. She was a Conservative, and rather disliked Blair and Brown, but was intrigued by Obama. I allowed that I would trade the entire Republican Party for David Cameron, and asked Gabriel to fix me a daiquiri.
This was the daiquiri as God intended it — not the fruit-flavored, crushed-ice concoctions found in most waterside bars — and Gabriel took his time with it, first twisting the lip of a small, globular glass into a lemon slice, then dusting it with sea salt, before pouring the blend. It was so good, and the production so entertaining, I had another. At some point, the British woman ordered a lemon-meringue pie and I countered with a vanilla-meringue cake that was… well, let’s just say heaven was involved with it, too.
We had a splendid time, the British lady, the art students, Gabriel and myself. But three was the limit for me, as Harry’s closes promptly at 11 p.m. Cards, personal and financial, were exchanged, sketches and goodbyes were tendered. And I felt a little less like the t-shirted tourist who had entered earlier.
Calle Vallaresso, 1323