I just spent another wonderful evening at Harry’s Bar, this time to celebrate my son’s 13th birthday. Do you know about this restaurant in Venice? It’s famous for it’s invention of the Bellini cocktail and Beef Carpaccio, as well as it’s celebrity patrons through the years. Bartender Giuseppe Cipriani opened this bar back in the 1930’s after Harry Pickering — an American friend of his — repaid a debt and then some which allowed Cipriani to open his own establishment. In return, he named the place in honor of Pickering.
If you look at the reviews on Trip Advisor, you might think twice about visiting. Most are disappointed when they step inside and see the small, simple lagoon-facing room which seems to ignore it’s prime location — you won’t find picture-glass windows or a charming water-side patio to celebrate it’s potential million dollar view. Instead, there is a short wooden bar, several tight-knit tables, and 4 small frosted windows. It’s easy to imagine Hemingway hanging out here without much change to the decor. The flip-flop crowd enters and departs on a regular basis, either turned away for their attire or unavailability.
Despite what some would see as short-comings, the white-jacketed waiters are masters of their trade here, and the food excellent without an ounce of pretense. It is for these reasons, combined with the history of this unassuming restuarant that the place continues to please it’s many fans, both local and from afar. But be aware: Harry’s is not for the budget-minded or — on the other hand — those seeking luxe or opulence.
My husband and I were both smitten with the charm of this place after our Venetian friend — Giovanni D’Este, owner of the wine bar Osteria Ai Rusteghi — brought us here for dinner several years back. Unaware of the dress code — no shorts — we were whisked upstairs to a corner table, with an admonishment to my husband NOT to leave the table. Actor Jason Schwartzman happened to be dining at the next table with an entourage, celebrating his birthday. This time we sat downstairs, right next to Giusseppe’s granddaughter Carmela who was dining with a friend. Actually, it seemed more like she was holding court as just about every diner thanked her before taking their leave.
On that first visit, I remember feasting on shrimp curry — Giovanni’s favorite dish here. Besides some Italian and Venetian favorites, one will find several continental selections such as sole meunière, club sandwich, and even a hamburger. On this recent visit, we dined on fresh buffalo mozzarella, shrimp & octopus salad, spinach ravioli, shrimp thermador, veal milanese, and grilled rib-eye. Everything was outstanding. For dessert, we all requested the homemade vanilla gelato, which was served family style from a large serving bowl. We also tried the famous chocolate cake, but the gelato was the preferred dolce.
I highly recommend a dining experience here, though even a shorter visit to enjoy a fresh bellini or even a bowl of gelato will allow you to bask in a bit of history — make sure you read Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees beforehand in which Harry’s is heavily featured. Reservations are possible via email — firstname.lastname@example.org
Read about another fabulous Cipriani restaurant experience here — this one set in a beautiful garden on a quiet island 20 minutes from Venice.