“You’ve not been in Venice, if you haven’t been to the Harry’s Bar.”

Italian saying

Venice’s famous bars developed out of the earlier tradition of café’s, enjoying popularity with the beau monde during the interwar years, the heyday of the cocktail.  And the bar of bars is undoubtedly Harry’s Bar. From Hemingway to Orson Welles, from Eugenio Montale to Woody Allen, from Onassis to Agnelli, from Giorgio De Chirico to Frank Sinatra, Arturo Toscanini and Truman Capote - Harry’s Bar is more than a café: it is a legend.

It was founded in 1931 by the young bartender of the Hotel Europa, Giuseppe Cipriani.   The story goes that one of the regulars at the Europa bar, a rich Bostonian called Harry Pickering, suddenly stopped coming to the hotel bar and when Cipriani found out that he had been cut off financially by his family, he loaned him 10,000 lire (about 500 dollars).  Two years later, Pickering returned to the hotel bar, ordered a drink, and gave Cipriani 50,000 lire in return and said “here's 40,000 more, enough to open a bar. We will call it Harry's Bar”.  

The bar, which had the air of a hotel bar without being in a hotel, was an immediate success thanks to Cipriani’s skill in mixing cocktails, the delicious cuisine, and Cipriani’s talent as a host. For over eighty years it has been a favourite hang-out of writers, painters, film-makers, cinema divas and kings and queens. Perhaps its most famous habitués were Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, and Cipriani’s most celebrated creations, both called after Venetian artists, were the Bellini cocktail made with white peach and prosecco and, according to Cipriani, the same colour as a dress worn by a figure in one of Bellini’s altarpieces,  and the Carpaccio of very thinly sliced beef, which in 1950 Giuseppe invented for a Venetian Countess who was following a strict diet.   To hear an excerpt from Cipriani’s diary, play the audio below: