Harry’s Bar Venice: History, Info, Interesting Facts

Harry’s Bar Venice: history, info, interesting facts


Harry’s Bar is a fascinating place, rightly part of the collective imagination. Over the years, thanks to its customers and their stories, this bar has developed a soul of its own. Two delicious specialties have been invented within its walls: the ‘Bellini’ and the ‘Carpaccio’.

Harry's Bar Venice: Bellini cocktail and Carpaccio (img-01)


Giuseppe Cipriani and the birth of Harry’s Bar.

There is no doubt that Harry’s Bar is a very special place, starting with the events that led to its birth: events that, if they hadn’t happened, would be worthy to be part of a small fable.

Harry's Bar Venice: Harry's Bar, Venice.

It was the year 1928, the Veronese Giuseppe Cipriani was employed as a barman in Venice, at the Hotel Europa and Britannia. Among his most loyal customers, Harry Pickering, scion of a wealthy Boston family: he was spending some time in Venice with his aunt. It was probably a dispute with her that deprived him of all the money, including that needed to pay the hotel and return home.
Mr. Giuseppe, understanding the difficult situation of the boy, decided to help by lending him 10.000 lire. He showed most unusual confidence, since at the time this was a considerable amount of money, especially for the finances of a barman.
His trust was repaid a couple of years later, when Harry returned and gave him back the entire sum, adding to it 30.000 lire out of gratitude. Blessed money, used by Mr.Cipriani to realize his dream.

Harry’s Bar was inaugurated on 13 May 1931: not surprisingly, it took the name of its benefactor. The idea that inspired this business was to create a ‘neutral’ place, where guests from all the most important hotels in the city could meet, enjoying a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. An idea that quite soon achieved great success, as the history of the bar clearly proves.

Harry's Bar Venice: The Grand Canal, Venice.


Harry’s Bar, a very special ‘room’.

Harry's Bar Venice: detail.

Giuseppe Cirpiani decided that, from its opening, Harry’s Bar should have a ‘discreet’ personality, avoiding, if possible, passing customers (*1). This choice, in addition to being imposed by the limited space available, responded to his desire to create a relationship with the guests. The fact that at the time of the inauguration, which took place in 1931, the bar was at the end of a closed road (*2), just in front of the Grand Canal, facilitated this particular decision.

Harry's Bar Venice: Nancy Reagan dines at Harry's Bar (img-02)

Creating from scratch a place that, by its very nature, could attract a certain type of customers and gain their loyalty, was not an easy task. It was necessary to make sure that these people, while being in a public place, could enjoy an atmosphere at the same time elegant and familiar. Even if these characteristics are almost antithetical, Giuseppe Cipriani managed to successfully combine them.
Intriguing persons, often characterized by talent and wealth, have spent important moments of their existence within the walls of Harry’s Bar, leaving an impalpable and yet indelible sign of their passage.
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It’s therefore no coincidence that Arrigo Cipriani, who took over the business in the 1950s, has nicknamed such a special place, ‘the room’ (‘la stanza’), recognizing to it a sort of ‘soul’.

Mr. Arrigo, following the path traced by his father, is the living symbol of a certain way of working: a ‘modus operandi’ that, refusing deceptive appearance, blends professionalism, attention to detail and a type of affability carried out with polite discretion.

*1: A kind of clientele that has always made the fortune of many Venetian business activities.
*2: Nowadays, a bridge connects Harry’s Bar to ‘Riva degli Schiavoni’ and ‘Piazza San Marco’.

Harry's Bar Venice: top floor.


Harry’s Bar Venice: tradition and evolution.

When, in the early 1950s, Arrigo Cipriani inherited from his father the direction of the Harry’s Bar, he paid attention to make no significant changes to the place, apart from adding a floor to gain some space (*1). After all, why modify a winning formula? Why revolutionize the space that Mr. Giuseppe himself had designed with such care and that, over the years, had been further embellished by fascinating stories?
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Even today, the chairs are comfortable, the tablecloths feel good to touch (*2), the light is comfortable and the acoustics allow to speak easily with tablemates.
Every detail in Harry’s Bar meets the ‘refined simplicity’, aimed at the well-being of the guests rather than at a vain display.

*1: It’s important to remember that the main room of Harry’s Bar, the ‘historical’ portion of this place, is just 45sqm!
*2: Tablecloths made only with linen.

Harry's Bar Venice: detail.


Bellini Cocktail and Carpaccio beef: Harry’s Bar jewels.

Harry’s Bar customers have the chance to taste some of the most typical Italian dishes, prepared according to the original recipes. Particularly tasty are the specialties belonging to the Venetian tradition, such as ‘fegato alla veneziana’ (Venetian style liver and onions), ‘baccalà alla vicentina’ (Vicenza-style cod) and ‘baccalà mantecato’ (creamed cod).
Although this offer alone could satisfy the most refined gourmets, the real ‘jewels’ of Harry’s Bar, the specialties for which it’s worth to visit the restaurant at least once, are a drink, the ‘Bellini’, and a meat-based dish, the ‘carpaccio’. They’re both fruits of the creativity of Giuseppe Cipriani.

Harry's Bar Venice: 'Bellini' cocktail (cc-01) Harry's Bar Venice: 'Bellini' cocktail (cc-01)

The Bellini Cocktail.

‘Bellini’ is a cocktail prepared with white peach pulp and prosecco (*1). It was born in 1948. Its name a tribute to Giovanni Bellini (*2), Venetian painter of the fifteenth century, who was celebrated that year in an exhibit. Some speculate that a particular shade of pink, used by the artists in one of his works, reminded Giuseppe Cipriani of his specialty.

Harry's Bar Venice: 'Carpaccio' (cc-02) Harry's Bar Venice: 'Carpaccio' (cc-02)

The Carpaccio beef.

‘Carpaccio’ was born in 1950, because of the particular diet of Amalia Nani Mocenigo, an Italian countess to which the doctor had prohibited cooked meat. Considering this, Giuseppe Cipriani decided to cut beef fillet in very thin slices (*3), seasoning them with the ‘Universal sauce’ (*4) of his invention (*5). The dish was given the name of ‘Carpaccio’ (*6) since an exhibit about the painter of the same name was held in Venice at that time.

*1: Some argue that it was originally made with Champagne, but this is not true, especially considering the recipe included in the book ‘L’angolo dell’Harry’s Bar’ by Giuseppe Cipriani.
The type of ‘Bellini’ made with Champagne is generally known as ‘Bellini Royal’.
*2: Also known as ‘Giambellino’.
*3: Nowadays, at Harry’s Bar, sirloin is preferred, since it’s tastier.
*4: This sauce is called ‘Universal’ because it can be used to flavor both meat and fish. It’s prepared with mayonnaise, Worcester sauce, lemon, milk, salt and white pepper.
*5: The sauce is sprinkled over the meat in such a way as to create something similar to an abstract painting, remembering the style of the famous painter Kandinskij.
*6: Vittore Carpaccio, Venetian painter (15th / 16th Century).

WebFoodCulture: the most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.

The most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.


Not just Belllini drink: the Dry Martini.

Harry's Bar Venice: Gen. Bernard Montgomery (img-05)

Although Harry’s Bar is world famous for its ‘Belllini’, many cocktail enthusiasts visit this place and order a ‘Dry Martini’, as Hernest Hemingway used to do. It was the American writer himself to start this tradition, enjoying particularly its most alcoholic ‘variation’, known as ‘Montgomery Martini’.
This is prepared by mixing Gin and Extra Dry Martini, in the proportion of fifteen to one. The cocktail takes its name from the British general Bernard Montgomery: it is said that, during the Second World War, he always tried to achieve the same proportion between his troops and the enemy on the battlefield.


Harry’s Bar Venice and its famous guests.

Although Harry’s Bar guests, as such, have always been considered equal to each other and therefore worthy of the same type of care and respect, it’s undeniable that good part of the reputation of this place comes from the (many) celebrities who visited it.
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This is not surprising, considering the ability of the Cipriani family to treat with simplicity and spontaneity people who are often too much at the center of attention, donating them moments of ‘precious normality’ (*1).
Over the years, many persons of great talent, sitting at the tables of the Bar, had and still has the rare opportunity to feel at home, without giving up the chance of having important meetings or just enjoying a few moments of relaxation.
If the walls of ‘la stanza’ (‘the room’) (*2) could talk, they would tell a huge number of interesting stories: amorous intrigues, furious quarrels, funny anecdotes and who knows what else. Only a fraction of these stories will ever reach the public: most of them are jealously guarded by the devoted discretion of the owners of the Bar and its staff.

Here follows a brief selection of some of the most famous guests of the Harry’s Bar:

Harry's Bar Venice: Arturo Toscanini (img-06)

Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini is widely considered one of the greatest conductors of all time. During his career, he worked in famous theaters such as La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan in New York. In 1939, his profound aversion to Nazi-fascism forced him to leave Europe and settle in the United States. (More)

Harry's Bar Venice: Georges Braque (img-07)

Georges Braque

French painter and sculptor. He contributed, together with his friend Pablo Picasso, to the birth and development of the artistic current known as ‘cubism’: an innovative representation of reality, consisting in a progressive translation of images into geometric shapes. (More)

Harry's Bar Venice: Truman Capote (img-08)

Truman Capote

Famous American author, playwright and screenwriter. In 1958 he published ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’: its plot was used for the famous movie by Black Edwards. The novel ‘Cold Blood’ (1966), based on a true crime story, brought Mr. Capote to the pinnacle of his success. (More)

Harry's Bar Venice: Maria Callas (cc-03)

Maria Callas

Mrs. Callas was a lyric singer of Greek origin: her vocal timbre was so unique that she was nicknamed ‘La Divina’ by opera enthusiasts. Her interpretations of Norma, by Vincenzo Bellini, and of Lucia di Lammermoor, by Gaetano Donizzetti, are still unforgettable. (More)

Harry's Bar Venice: Orson Wells (img-10)

Orson Welles

American director, actor and screenwriter. He was just twenty-three when he became very popular thanks to his radio show ‘The War of the Worlds’: it was so realistic that millions of Americans believed they were attacked by aliens. His most famous movie is ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941). (More)

Harry's Bar Venice: Woody Allen (img-03)

Woody Allen

American actor, director and writer. The great part of his works is characterized by a very personal style, recognizable for sharp and refined irony. It’s difficult to list all his successful movies, including ‘Play It Again, Sam’ (1972), ‘Annie Hall’ (1977) and ‘Manhattan’ (1979). (More)

*1: “True aristocracy and intelligentsia don’t know snobbery” (Arrigo Cipriani).
*2: The name that Mr. Arrigo likes to use referring to the main room of Harry’s Car.


Hemingway, a very special customer.

Harry's Bar Venice: Ernest Hemingway (img-04)

During the winter between 1949 and 1950, Hernest Hemingway became a regular guest of Harry’s Bar: his visits were a pleasing routine, deeply connected to the writing of the novel ‘Across the River and into the Trees’, whose protagonist, Colonel Cantwell, is none other than his alter ego.
It is said that the writer preferred a particular table: a corner table from which, while tasting a dry martini, he loved to observe the diverse people frequenting the Bar.
If it is true that Giuseppe Cipriani, as a serious professional, always tried not to establish friendships with his clients, recommending to his son Arrigo to keep a polite detachment, from this point of view, Hemingway was an exception.


Cipriani and the ‘trattoria’ spirit.

Although many believe, probably because of the name, that Harry’s Bar is a bar, this is only partially true: it’s in fact primarily a restaurant. A very particular restaurant, that’s for sure: as already mentioned in another paragraph of this article, its owners have managed to merge elegance, refinement and what can be called the ‘spirit of the trattoria’.
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The ‘trattoria’ is the place that Arrigo Cipriani, contrasting the current trend, appreciates most because of its virtues: the captivating simplicity, the quality of food and the kind of freedom that customers can enjoy.
In every good trattoria, the one who leads the kitchen is not a ‘chef’, but a ‘cook’: a serious professional who, taking distance from ‘theatrical gastronomy’ and from any narcissistic ambition, is mainly concerned with the essence of his work. As Mr. Arrigo says, “it’s a matter of doing things right”.

Harry's Bar Venice: Venetian sunset.


Harry’s Bar Venice location.

Harry’s Bar overlooks the Grand Canal, one of the symbols of Venice, city famous all over the world, located in the Italian region of Veneto.

Harry's Bar Venice: 'Trattare le persone come re e i re come persone' (Arrigo Cipriani)

(Arrigo Cipriani)


‘Arrigo’, the translation of ‘Harry’.

It’s plausible to think that Giuseppe Cipriani, as a sign of gratitude for Harry Pickering, gave his name not only to his Bar but also to his son.
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‘Arrigo’ is, in fact, the Italian translation for Harry. This hypothesis has been confirmed by Mr. Cipriani Jr. himself, who said many times, ironically, to have “the name of a bar”.

Harry's Bar Venice: 'I have the name of a bar' (Arrigo Cipriani)

(Arrigo Cipriani)


Harry’s Bar Venice: the documentary.

In the beautiful documentary ‘Harry’s Bar’, the only one officially recognized by Arrigo Cipriani, its director Carlotta Cerquetti tells the engaging and interesting story of the famous Venetian Bar.


Music for Harry’s Bar Venice.

Predictably, an iconic and fascinating place like Harry’s Bar is mentioned in many songs: the ideal soundtrack of this article.

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full song.


1938, Giuseppe Cipriani and the insult to fascism.

In 1938 the fascist regime started to apply the so-called ‘Racial Laws’, therefore imposing to the owner of Harry’s Bar to exhibit a sign prohibiting the admission of Jewish people.
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An unacceptable request, so horrible to force Giuseppe Cipriani to face the wrath of the authorities by hanging the sign, rather than at the entrance, at the kitchen door. This was considered a great insult, especially considering the lack of irony of these people. Not surprisingly, at the beginning of the war, Harry’s Bar was seized and assigned as a mess hall for sailors.


Harry’s Bar in literature.

Harry’s Bar is mentioned in at least a couple of famous novels: ‘Across the River and Into the Trees’, by Hernest Hemingway, and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh.


The books about Harry’s Bar Venice.

Those who want to know something more about Harry’s Bar should read the books written by its owners. Who better than Giuseppe and Arrigo Cipriani could describe this place and its guests?

WebFoodCulture: only the most typical and traditional food & wine.



Harry’s Bar spirit in the world.

The Cipriani’s ability to treat customers has made their fortune. Harry’s Bar philosophy has been successfully exported around the world.
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Currently, the brand is present in a large number of countries, such as the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Montecarlo.
It should be pointed out the existence of many places that, although bearing the name ‘Harry’s Bar’ and trying to imitate its formula, don’t belong to the Cipriani family.

Harry's Bar Venice: 'Serve the others the same way you would be served' (Arrigo Cipriani)

(Arrigo Cipriani)


Harry’s Bar Venice: information and contacts.

Getting to Harry’s Bar is very simple. Starting from the Basilica of San Marco, head towards the Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro. Turn right, go along ‘Riva degli Schiavoni’ until you reach the ferry stop.


Address: Calle Vallaresso, 1323
30124 Venice.

Website: cipriani.com

Tel.: +39 041 5285777

Harry's Bar Venice: Bust of Hernest Hemingway, Havana, Cuba.


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The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.

The following images are public domain:

img-01 (**) – Ernest Hemingway, Kenya, 1954, JFK Presidential Library (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-02 (**) – Nancy Reagan dines at Harry’s Bar, 1987, M.A. Fackelman (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Woody Allen, ‘Play it Again Sam’, cast photo by Rabinson, 1969 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Ernest Hemingway aboard his Yacht, 1950 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-05 (**) – General B.L. Montgomery, North Africa, 1942 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-06 (**) – Arturo Toscanini conducting ‘La forza del destino’, 1943 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-07 (*) – Georges Braque, 1908 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-08 (*) – Truman Capote, 1959, United States Library of Congress (Wikipedia Link)
img-09 (*) – Corriere della Sera: front page, 11 Novembre 1938 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-10 (*) – Orson Welles, 1943 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}

cc-01 – ‘Bellini’, image owner John Phelan (Wikipedia Link)

These images are made available under the licence Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic :

cc-02 – ‘Carpaccio’, image owner franzconde (Wikipedia Link)

These images are made available under the licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International:

cc-03 – Maria Callas, ‘Violetta’, image owner Vanilafeel (Wikipedia Link)

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.