Lifestyle Travel Venice
Drake's in Venice: On the Water with Arrigo Cipriani
By David Eley
Mar 23, 2023
Michael Hill and I were invited by Arrigo Cipriani to be personally chauffeured around the canals of his native Venice in a 70 year old vintage motor launch. Beneath glorious blue skies we threaded our way between magnificent architecture as he defined his life-long philosophy.
Cruising across the Giudecca canal toward Venice proper, Arrigo cuts a dashing figure at the wheel of his classic launch. Embarking on his 91st year, his zest for life and immaculate tailoring put those of a younger vintage to shame. As we traversed the narrow waterways, assailed by the complimentary canal-side greetings from so many fellow Venetians, we realised why he was recently anointed a ‘Lion of Venice’... quite simply, Arrigo is a force of nature, and nine decades into a life so full of extraordinary achievements, we see why Harry’s remains capital and constant.
Ernest Hemingway described Harry’s Bar as a microcosm of all that Venice has to offer, a protected cultural icon and the universal benchmark for service and hospitality. Established by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1931, this humble low-ceilinged room measures 4.5m x 9m and sits hard by the Grand Canal, at the head of Calle Valaresso. Steeped in 20th century history and permeated by the spirits of our greatest literary and artistic figures – Harry’s is probably the greatest bar in the world.
As opera legend Maria Callas emerged from her chrysalis in nearby Teatro La Fenice, Giuseppe Cipriani was inventing the Bellini cocktail and Carpaccio of beef, along with the frozen ‘direct Martini’ – all iconic and adopted worldwide as part of our gastronomic lexicon.
Imitated, venerated and immortalised in print, uniquely, Harry’s Bar has been written about and has played a significant role in the creation of some of the world’s greatest literature. If Capote wrote it, Papa poured it and Onassis ordered it, you can be sure Harry’s Bar featured somewhere… it is the beating heart of Venetian life and culture.
When Harry’s is humming everyone wants to be there. A place where Versace couture and Levi’s sit comfortably together, where glamour is permeated by humility... and nobody really cares, for we are all at Harry’s, and life is good.
The Cipriani philosophy permits no ego in the kitchens, a place where only ‘cooks’ exist....and to paraphrase this great man, “a beautiful simplicity” prevails. Harry’s is the high altar of pared back sophistication... Hollywood A-Listers sit among Venetian locals to enjoy a classic menu little changed over decades... all are treated equally in this bar with a soul, a space so profoundly understated, it is easy for any casual visitor to miss the point.
Arrigo Cipriani believes in impeccable ‘service’ without ostentation and his illustrious career in hospitality has shaped the perspective of professionals worldwide. Well-read, civilised and stylish, he epitomises the definition of a refined life, an established author, teacher, mentor and renaissance man. His own son, Giuseppe, has taken his father’s philosophy to heart and amplified it on a world stage.... creating an international empire. However, this global success stems entirely from the incomparable and modest Harry’s Bar, a five minute walk from the bustling Piazza San Marco.
Stepping off the Calle Valaresso and passing behind the frosted glass doors one enters another world... to experience Harry’s Bar and feel the warm atmosphere, is to be inspired.
If God has created a cocktail bar in heaven, let it be modelled on Harry’s Bar in Venice.