Cipriani - Italy’s finest with style

by S F

Harry's Bar is a local historian of Venice, declared a national heritage by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in 2001, and was founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani.

The name of the bar, as told by Giuseppe Cipriani himself, derives from that of the young American student Harry Pickering who, who moved to Venice in the twenties with an aunt to try to cure himself of an onset of alcoholism, was ditched by this with very few money after a fight. Giuseppe Cipriani, at the time a barman in the Europa & Britannia hotel, where the American lived, pitied by the affair, lent the young man 10,000 lire, a considerable sum for the time, to allow him to return home. Two years later, the young man, recovered from alcoholism, returned to Venice and, having tracked down Cipriani, as a sign of gratitude he returned the entire sum by adding 30,000 lire so that he could open his own business. Cipriani then decided to call his restaurant "Harry's Bar" in honor of his benefactor, inaugurating his business on May 13, 1931

The original nucleus was a fund of forty-five square meters, located close to Piazza San Marco, at the entrance to Calle Vallaresso on the side of the Grand Canal, in the same current location. At the time, the bridge that allows direct connection with the Piazza had not yet been built and therefore the bar was positioned in a dead end street, which Cipriani judged positive because it would have had a clientele who would have come there on purpose instead of casual customers. .

The place, which served as both a bar and a restaurant, was an immediate success, especially by an intellectual and aristocratic clientele, who at the time had one of their favorite destinations in Venice. The first (still the only) guest book contains among others the signatures of Rino Amato, Arturo Toscanini, Georges Braque, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin, Peggy Guggenheim, Barbara Hutton, Somerset Maugham, Grégoire Hetzel, Barbara Carlotti, Mauro Joy, Orson Welles.

The type of customers who frequented the bar also caused some problems with the fascist authorities of the time, who viewed it with suspicion, considering it a meeting point for homosexuals and wealthy Jews. When the regime enacted the racial laws of 1938, Cipriani was ordered to display the sign of non-admission of Jews, an order which he somehow circumvented by hanging the sign not at the entrance to the bar but on the kitchen door.

During the Second World War, the bar was confiscated and turned into a canteen for sailors.
At the end of the hostilities, the bar resumed its regular activity. During the winter between 1949 and 1950, the American writer Ernest Hemingway became a regular client, to the point of having an exclusive personal table, also forming a friendship with Cipriani. At the time he was finishing his novel Across the River and Among the Trees, in which Harry's Bar is mentioned numerous times.

The management of the bar, after the retirement of Giuseppe Cipriani, passed to his son Arrigo. In 2016 Arrigo Cipriani, for the history of Harry's Bar, received the America Award from the Italy-USA Foundation in the Chamber of Deputies.

The story of Harry's Bar is told in the documentary Harry's Bar by Carlotta Cerquetti, winner of the Open Award at the Venice Days - Giornate degli Autori, Venice 72.

Those who enter it for the first time cannot help but return, not only for its excellent cuisine, but also because it truly feels at home.