Thursday, 6 September 2012

Our Visit to Harry’s Bar

One thing that Venice is fantastic for, is it’s wide variety of cafe’s, restuarants and bars. There is seemingly a place to sit, eat and drink on every corner. But out of all these places, there was only one which Cara and I were excited to visit, the famous “Harry’s Bar”. In the bartending community, Harry’s Bar is seen to be the pioneer of cocktail bars. So it was our mission to see if Harry’s was really all it is cracked up to be.

Giuseppe Cipriani
Outside his Bar in 1931
Harry’s Bar is said to be the first specialist cocktail bar to be opened. It was founded by Italian man, Giuseppe Cipriani. Giuseppe was born in Verona in 1900. His family immigrated to Germany, where he went to school and soon began working in a factory just before the first world war. When the war broke out the family fled back to Verona, where Giuseppe found work in a pastry kitchen. This is where his love for the hospitality industry started. After working in the pastry kitchen for a number of years, he decided to become a waiter in other restuarants. During this time Giuseppe moved for place to place only staying until he felt like he could learn no more at that particular establishment.  He traveled and worked throughout France, Belgium and Italy, finally settling in Venice where he got a job as a bartender in the Hotel Europa. The Europa is a luxury hotel which is still running in Venice today.  The hotel bar became a regular hang-out for the European and Venetian elite.  During this time at the Europa hotel, Giuseppe learnt and became passionate about cocktails. His dream then became to open his own bar, which was just as   elite and luxurious, but not attached with a hotel. It was a be a specialist cocktail bar. His only problem was his of lack of money to make this dream and reality.  

Whilst working at the Hotel Europa, Guiseppe became friends with a young American man called Harry Pickering. Harry had come to Venice with his aunt in the hope to cure his drinking problem. This attempt was hopeless as Harry spent most of his days sitting in the hotel bar. This caused Harry and his aunt to fall out. His aunt left Harry with no money and she returned to America.  Giuseppe lent Harry money to help him survive and not long after, Harry disappeared. After months of not seeing or hearing from Harry, Giuseppe gave up all hope of ever seeing his money again. Then in February 1931, Harry Pickering returned to the Hotel Europa and repaid Giuseppe his money, plus an extra 30,000 lira to say thank you and also to give Giuseppe the opportunity to finally open his bar.  Giuseppe went and opened his bar and suitably named it “Harry’s Bar”.  The bar opened on May 13th 1931. Coincidentally, this is the same day in 1806 where the word “Cocktail” was first published in print.

As we walked into Harry’s Bar, you really got the impression that the bar still looks exactly the same today as it did when it first opened. A waiter dressed in a smart white suit, sat as down and gave us the menu to look over. As in most bars in Italy, we were also given complementary serving of olives.  Sitting in Harry’s Bar you really got a sense of history. The menu is very minimal. It seems that the cocktail menu is exactly the same as it was back in 1931.  I think it’s nice that they are re-creating the original look and feel of the bar. As Cara and I both discussed our thoughts on Harry’s Bar, we both agreed that, if you are trying to recreate history and offer a very minimal menu and selling drinks at very exorbitant prices, the standard needs to be extremely high. Unfortunately when we saw Cara’s Bellini being mass produced in a shaker tin along with 3 other orders our expectation of quality started to fade. When her drink arrived, it looked nice and tasted ok, but that was all. It was just ok. During our travels through Italy, Cara has become a bit of an expert on Bellini’s and Rossini’s. She said that she has had better Bellini’s from other bars and we’ve paid a third of the price. I guess thats what you get when you mass produce cocktails. You get a drink which is just ok.  I ordered a classic Italian cocktail, the Negroni (gin, campari & sweet vermouth). My drink was a little better. A nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. But a Negroni is a simple classic, it’s hard to go wrong.  As we chatted some more, we really started to notice the finer details which really disappointed us. We noticed that the waiter had served us our drinks on a creased, almost crumpled napkin. In any other bar, we’d not have a problem with this. But in Harry’s Bar, of all bars, where you expect everything to be that little bit better than your average bar, it just wasn’t.  

So as we finished our drinks and left, we departed with mixed emotions. On the one hand we were thankful and happy for the experiance. It’s something that we’ll never forget. It was amazing to see something which is such a huge part of cocktail history. But on the other hand, we were disappointed, that the bar has lost it’s way. The passion of serving amazing drinks with outstanding service, seems to not be a priority anymore. The name and reputation of Harry’s Bar seems to be all that they are relying on. As far as Cara and I were concerned, we were happy that we’d been and done it. It’s just another thing we can tick off the list.

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