Harry’s Bar, Venice

Bellinis and Carpaccio on the Grand Canal

Any lover of Venice knows there’s no place like Harry’s Bar for enjoying a peach bellini or a plate of carpaccio  and watching the beau monde.  In fact, bellinis and carpaccio were dreamed up at Harry’s Bar.  Grazie a Dio per Harry!

The minute you disembark in the Serenissima, you’ll find yourself counting down the minutes until your delectable journey to Calle Vallaresso near the Piazza San Marco, where this legendary restaurant has resided for over six decades. As you enjoy your linguini primavera, you may find yourself wondering, as I have, who was Harry who gave his name to this Venetian landmark?

Harry’s is, above all else, a bar. Since the 1920’s, Harry’s has been the regular haunt for the A-list cognoscenti: artists, writers, celebrities, divas, royalty, and the likes of the Onassises, Windors, Hemingway, Cole Porter, Joan Crawford, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and Peggy Guggenheim to name but a few.

As famous as the bar itself, the Bellini, Harry’s signature drink, has become an icon of Venice and is served by aspiring hostesses around the world. This delicious concoction of fresh peach juice and Prosecco is often copied, but copies never taste like the original. The Bellini was christened in honour of the artist Giovanni Bellini for the exposition in Venice in 1948. Harry’s other classic “the Montgomery” is a very dry martini named by Hemingway and often described as the best dry martini in the world.

There are trademark dishes, but reigning supreme are the humble, but mouth-watering, finger sandwiches: egg and anchovy, chicken with homemade mayo, and the beloved Harry’s Bar “club,” which is in a category of its own. Originally, Harry’s served only hot and cold sandwiches and Welsh Rarebit. Eventually, the bar became a restaurant, famous for risottos and dozens of pasta dishes, which are the house specialites. “Carpaccio,” a dish of thinly sliced cured beef with slivers of parmesan and sauce, named after the Venetian master, was invented here.

And back to the mystery of who was Harry. Travel back in time to 1929. Guiseppe Cipriani, was a barman at the Hotel Europa. A rich, young American from Boston named Harry Pickering often stayed at the Europa for months on end with his maiden aunt and her black Peckinese, (in the true Edith Wharton tradition.) Once when Harry fell on hard times, Guiseppe loaned him $5,000. Two years later, Harry walked into the Europa Bar and repaid Guiseppe. To show his appreciation he added another $40,000 so that Guiseppe could open his own luxury art deco bar called Harry’s Bar. Guiseppe named his son, Arrigo, Italian for Harry, after his friends.

During the war English names were outlawed in Venice and Harry’s became Arrigo’s Bar. In 1943 it was closed to the public by the Germans and became a mess hall for their officers.

After the war, Harry’s resumed it’s role as an international watering hole for the likes of Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote, Elsa Maxwell, Orson Wells, the Queen of Spain, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, the king of Greece, and on and on.
There are Harry’s Bars all over the place now, but in reality there is only one Harry’s Bar, the one on the Calle Valleresso in Venice. Our advice is: Forget all the others and hurry to Harry’s!

There are Harry’s Bars all over the place now, but in reality there is only one Harry’s Bar, the one on the Calle Valleresso in Venice. Our advice is: Forget all the others and hurry to Harry’s!

The Bellini
In the “good old days,” Harry’s employed a man who did nothing but cut up and pit small white peaches and squeeze them with his hands. This was forced through a sieve to make the rose-coloured juice that is mixed with Prosecco to make Bellinis. The Bellini was a seasonal drink, only served from June through September. Now frozen white peach puree comes from France all year-round.Use a food mill to make a very tart peach puree, sweeten with a little sugar syrup. Chill the puree until it is very cold, mix with cold, dry Prosecco: 1 part peach puree to 3 parts prosecco. Pour into chilled glasses. 

Carpaccio is the most popular dish served at Harry’s. Named for Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter known for his use of brilliant reds and whites, Guisseppe invented the dish in 1950 to accommodate a favourite customer whose doctor had forbidden her to eat cooked meat.

Carpaccio is made by covering the plate with the thinnest possible slices of raw beef which is garnished with shaved parmesan and a latticed ribbon of Carpaccio sauce, which is made from homemade mayonnaise with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper. 
— Mrs M

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