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Harry's Bar of Venice -- a modern Italian landmark
(CNN) -- Who knew in 1929 that an act of kindness -- from a bartender to a customer -- would yield a watering hole in Venice that could become a favorite meeting place for the international society and European aristocracy.
Since its inception nearly 70 years ago, Harry's Bar has played host to writers, artists, celebrities and aristocrats -- all attracted to the simple yet elegant atmosphere, great cocktails and cuisine.
Ernest Hemingway used to have his own table in one corner of Harry's Bar. Immediately following World War II, Hemingway dedicated to the bar a page of his famous novel "Across the River and into the Trees."
Different times have brought other distinguished customers, including: Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini; inventor Guglielmo Marconi; international film star Charlie Chaplin; Truman Capote; Orson Welles; Baron Philippe de Rothschild; Princess Aspasia of Greece; Aristotle Onassis; Barbara Hutton; and Peggy Guggenheim -- just to mention a few.
"A customer who often comes to my restaurant and always enchants me for his simplicity, shyness and self-irony is film director Woody Allen," explained Arrigo Cipriani, son of Harry's Bar founder Giuseppe Cipriani, to CNN Italia.
"The night before getting married in Venice in 1997 (to Soon-Yi Previn), he had dinner at Harry's Bar. It was like a wedding reception," Arrigo said in a pleased tone.
How it all began
Harry's Bar opened in 1931 when Arrigo's father, Giuseppe Cipriani, an enterprising bartender at the Hotel Europa in Venice, got some financial assistance from a rich, young American from Boston named Harry Pickering.
According to Cipriani company history, Pickering had been a customer at the Hotel Europa for some time, then suddenly stopped frequenting the hotel bar. One day, the elder Cipriani asked Pickering why he no longer patronized the bar. Pickering was broke, he explained to the bartender -- his family cut him off when it was discovered he had not curtailed his recklessness and fondness for drinking.
So, Cipriani loaned his patron a chunk of cash -- about 10,000 lire, or $5,000 U.S..
Two years later, Pickering walked back into the Hotel Europa, ordered a drink at the bar, handed 10,000 lire to Giuseppe Cipriani -- then handed Cipriani more.
"Mr. Cipriani, thank you. Here's the money. And to show you my appreciation, here's 40,000 more, enough to open a bar. We will call it Harry's Bar," the legend state's on the Cipriani Web site.
Located on Calle Vallaresso, close to the Piazza San Marco, the bar -- as the Ciprianis have always called it -- was first conceived as a hotel bar, serving no food, and later transformed into a restaurant.
"Our logo represents a stylized barman with a shaker in his hands pouring a Martini, a Manhattan or any popular aperitif into three small glasses," the second-generation restaurateur said.
"The only Harry's Bar we own is the one in Venice," Cipriani continued, pointing out that "all the Harry's Bars around the world that have imitated our bar's name don't have anything to do with us."
Success is in the details
Arrigo Cipriani -- Italian for Harry -- was born a year after the bar opened.
"I had never suspected anything about my name until I was put in charge of the cash register at the age of 18," he recalled. "Then, I started realizing why they named me like that."
After graduating with a law degree and getting married, he kept working full-time at the bar.
"My father taught me everything, because he invented everything. Truly, I think I am one of his inventions," he proudly said.
First among the many lessons taught by his father: In a restaurant, the customer always needs to feel at home.
"When I was 17 years old, one day that was the first Saturday of September and Harry's Bar was very crowded -- back then, we didn't have the dining room on the second floor, but just the one on the ground-floor -- a customer came in alone and my father gave him the biggest table we had available," Cipriani said.
"He gave -- to an only person -- a table for 10 people, because he used to say that a customer alone doesn't have anyone to talk to, so we need to feed him."
"This has always been our principle: a customer who comes in alone can always eat, even without a reservation, like he is at home. Nobody can send him away," he emphasized.
"The success of a restaurant is made of the details," Arrigo continued. "Our job is built from zero everyday. In the morning, everything is raw, nothing is cooked."
However, like his father, Giuseppe, Arrigo Cipriani believes that three things are fundamental to drawing and satisfying his customers: quality, a smile and simplicity.
"We wish to serve our clients as we would like to be served ourselves, with the greatest care and attention, because serving is above all loving."
A family business
"All my relatives in one way or another have always devoted themselves to the bar," Arrigo Cipriani said. "My wife managed for several years a small factory of egg pasta that we have in Venice since 1983. My daughter, Giovanna, for a while ran one of the family's restaurants in New York, while my other daughter, Carmela, wrote cookbooks for children with recipes from Harry's Bar. Lastly, my son Giuseppe, who lives in New York, developed the family's enterprise, expanding our operations in New York and Buenos Aires."
Heading Cipriani International, the young Giuseppe Cipriani dashed off on a crusade to conquest the most exclusive spots in the heart of Manhattan. Besides Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue, founded by his father in 1985, the young Cipriani has run Downtown Cipriani, in SoHo, since 1996.
The family also purchased The Rainbow Room, retaining the name of the famed 1930s New York establishment.
Back in Venice, the Cipriani family also runs Harry's Dolci -- renowned for its pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli) and delicious chocolate cake -- on the island of Giudecca. Since 1936, the Ciprianis have owned the restaurant, inn and bar Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello. Queen Elizabeth II has visited the Locanda restaurant.
And the Ciprianis plan further expansion.
"In New York, we are planning to open up two restaurants at Grand Central Terminal and maybe another one in Harlem," Arrigo Cipriani said. "Soon, we will also set up a food shop of our specialties at Cipriani 42d Street."
In 1991, Arrigo Cipriani compiled a book of recipes: "The Harry's Bar Cookbook" (Bantam Books). The volume contains more than 200 original recipes, interesting anecdotes and learned digressions on the Italian classic cuisine and the philosophy of entertaining.
During the 1930s and 1940s, founder Giuseppe Cipriani created many of the dishes still served today.
According to the Ciprianis, Giuseppe invented the Bellini and the Montgomery -- cocktails that became mainstays of the bar culture. The Bellini, also called the "pink cocktail", contains white peach pulp, juice and Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine). Giuseppe is said to have invented it in 1948, and named the drink for the Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini whose works were exhibited in Venice that year.
The Montgomery, as Hemingway called it, is a very dry martini with a proportion of gin to vermouth of fifteen to one -- the same proportion the famed British General Bernard Montgomery was said to have his soldiers fight one enemy during World War II.
The house classics include: hot sandwiches; mouthwatering shrimp sandwiches (favorites of Orson Welles and Truman Capote); the egg pasta with ham au gratin; risotti; and Carpaccio -- the most popular dish served at Harry's Bar.
Consisting of paper-thin sheets of raw filet mignon, seasoned with a light white sauce comprised of mayonnaise and mustard, the Carpaccio, according to the bar's legend, was inspired by one of the regulars: the Countess Anna Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor prohibited her from eating cooked meat. The dish was named after the celebrated Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, famous for his use of bright red-and-white colors.
"I believe that classic Italian kitchen, that is the old days home cooking, the old times women cooking, reflects a universal taste that everybody likes, regardless of nationality," Arrigo Cipriani said. "It is the only cuisine that can be prepared and repeated daily. This is definitely one of the reasons of the success of our restaurants."
Editor's Note: CNN Italia, with the help of Arrigo Cipriani, son of the founder of Harry's Bar, chose to compile the company's history and pass on the recipes of some of the magnificent drinks and the classic dishes that have made the cuisine of the Venetian bar renowned around the world.
Cipriani Main Menu
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