Eating and drinking in Venice bars

My name is Daniela Farnese and I am a novelist.

Venice was the first city I have chosen. In fact, sometimes I am convinced that it was actually the city that chose me. After moving from country to country, and region to region to follow my parents, in the late 1990s I moved to the lagoon to study at the University of Ca’ Foscari. Out of all the amazing things that struck me about Venice, three had great influence on my then-young life: the disarming beauty and history of its architecture and waterways; the intense and lively cultural life (from the Biennale to the Venice Film Festival; from the busy La Fenice theater schedule to Carnival), and the quality and quantity of wines served in its many taverns.

In Venice, Eating and Drinking is Divine.

Whether you are on your honeymoon, on a school trip, on vacation or on a business trip, on your first or umpteenth visit to the city, you cannot help but notice how wide food and wine selection is here. Venetians are proud of their cuisine and, despite the recent unchecked proliferation of take-away pizzerias, kebab and ice cream parlors, there is still an enormous range of wines and local foods for all tastes. And, especially for all budgets!

Restaurants, wineries, wine shops, taverns, wine bars, sitting or standing, indoors or outdoors: there are countless facilities to sip wines and spirits. Every inhabitant of the lagoon has his/her favorite place and is willing to bet that his/hers is the best. Sometimes, you only have to walk the less crowded streets to notice a group of people with cup in hand to find a new place to enjoy a drink.

I have divided up my suggestions in 5 thematic tasting areas, from the stroll to the “aperitif time”, the sit-down dinner and the journey to magical rows that survive in the city. In broad strokes, my categories embody the most common drinking habits in the lagoon, all having the same absolute imperative: relaxation. In Venice, you walk and chat, do not peek at your watch, you can end up sharing your table with strangers, eat with your hands, sit on the bridge steps to toast and also indulge in more glasses than usual (without overdoing it), because there are no cars and no designated driver is needed.

1. Bar-hopping for Cicchetti (the Not-to-miss Bàcari Tour)

The typical Venetian tavern is called bàcaro. Once upon a time, Bacari were winemakers who arrived in the city by boat loaded with wine barrels to be sold in Piazza San Marco. They used to find a spot in the shadow of the bell tower, moving several times during the day, as the sun moved. For this reason, even today wine glasses are called shadows (ombre). Shadows are consumed with cichéti (finger foods), seafood, meat or vegetables snacks, served in small portions, eaten with one hand and standing, given the small size of the taverns. It is difficult to spend a single day in the city without crossing any of the wooden and glass counters displaying dozens of such specialties.

Cicchetti are to Venetian aperitif like tapas in Madrid.

There are many bàcari, whether historic, newly opened or renovated, and most of them are concentrated in the Cannaregio and San Polo districts. I like to go for shadows starting from the Guglie Bridge up to the Fondamenta della Misericordia, making at least three stops (but you can do more!) at sunset, when beautiful light and people sitting at the edge of channels are a unique spectacle to see.

The first stop is by Luca e Fred (at 1518 Cannaregio), a short walk from the Santa Lucia Railway Station, offering a variety of mouthwatering snacks: salt cod croutons, sardines in sauce, meatballs, fried fish, marinated anchovies, “folpetti”, baked potatoes, etc. Wine selection is small but good; they also serve beer and spritz, and dishes for lunch or dinner (though prices are higher compared to the aperitif).

The second stage is Al Timon, a tiny place at 2754 Fondamenta degli Ormesini, which offers organic wines from all over the world, young red and white wines, as well as more affordable house wines, all accompanied by assorted crostini at 1 Euro each. It is always very crowded, features outside tables and a barge moored in the channel in front of which you can sit down to enjoy your drink. Refilling is fast and, with a short wait, it is possible to sit down for dinner (only meat-based menu). The tiramisù is divine.

My third and last stop is the historic Paradiso Perduto (at 2450 Fondamenta Misericordia), an institution for those who, like me, were students in Venice at least 15 years ago. A former stable, this place is a mixture between a bàcaro and a true tavern, with large wooden tables to share even with strangers. It is warm and friendly, with exposed brick walls; it’s impossible not to make friends here. The tavern serves good food and, often, features live music. When it is crowded, it is possible to order at the counter and sit outside next to the canal (in that case, you can get a discount on dishes).

2. Lunch Break with View

After walking up and down bridges, it is nice to be able to enjoy good food in front of a spectacular view. For lunch, I always prefer the “campi” (Venetian for squares) under the Rialto Bridge, on the side of the historic market, which deserves at least one visit.

In Erbaria, a light-filled square surrounded by water, there is the Bancogiro (at 122 San Polo), a restaurant-trattoria with tables overlooking the Grand Canal. In this seventeenth-century home of the merchants, chefs offer delicious, mostly fish-based dishes inspired by regional tradition. Wines to be selected from a fairly rich list can also be enjoyed by the glass at the counter. Prices are in line with area restaurants, with an increase for the “location”, but dish presentation and quality is anything but tourist-like.

Next door is the Naranzaria (at 130 San Polo), a former citrus warehouse, now a trendy wine bar-restaurant to enjoy seasonal regional dishes, with some Oriental touch. It offers mostly Italian Northeastern wines. Even in this case, the view is worth a stop.

If you are in a hurry, or have a small lunch budget, in the next square (at 213 Bella Vienna), you can find Al Merca’, a tiny 3-square meter place offering more than 40 white and red wine labels, Spritz and beers to be consumed standing, in addition to an infinite variety of mouth-watering small sandwiches and meatballs.

3. In Wine Stores, Hunting for Special Labels

If you are looking for different wines, perhaps to take home and drink on a special occasions, in Venice you’ll find many well-stocked wine stores. My favorite ones?

The Cantina Do Mori (at 429 San Polo) is hidden in a dark labyrinth of narrow streets, just a few steps from the Rialto bridge, and definitely worth visiting. Founded in 1462, this place still looks like a dark medieval winery, full of of demijohns and copper pots with a long wooden table full of fresh finger foods. There are no tables, and no Spritz is served here. It offers about 150 different labels (some of which are quite fine), to be purchased by the bottle or tasted by the glass, as well as bulk wines. Tourists discovered it recently and, at particular times of the day, it is besieged by guests.

La Mascareta of Innkeeper Mauro Lorenzon (at 5183 Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa), is a wine-by-the liter wine store with a huge selection. Over the years, it has transformed itself into a restaurant offering delicious, often excellent dishes, in large portions (prices are around 15 Euros for first, and 20 for second courses). The atmosphere is cozy and owner and staff are really friendly. It offers “good beyond taste” wines, some of which are quite unique, at very competitive prices. You can taste any wine for sale also by the glass. Anytime I return to the city after a trip, dinner at Mauro’s is a must!

4. Drink like a King

The Harry’s Bar, a stone’s throw from Piazza San Marco (at 1323 Calle Vallaresso) is by now a legend. No bar in Europe can boast a more glorious, exciting and complex history than the place founded by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1931. Quoted by Hemingway and De Andrè (among others), once the favorite destination of artists (Toscanini, Chaplin, Truman Capote, etc.) and kings, the bar was declared a National Heritage Site in 2001. This is the place where world renowned specialties, like the Bellini cocktail and carpaccio were invented. Prices make your wallet cry and its look is a tad outdated, but if you wish to enjoy the atmosphere of when Venice was the most exclusive center of the continent, make a quick stop there (maybe just for an aperitif).

5. Vineyard Rows in High Waters

The last stop is devoted to vineyards that still endure in the city, despite weather and terrain challenges. Recovered in recent years by the work of associations like “Laguna in the Glass” (Laguna nel bicchiere), these vineyards are small and hidden, wonderful secrets tucked away in some of the most picturesque islands of the lagoon, cared for with love and dedication by those who treasure wine culture.

My advice?

The vineyards of the ancient monastery of the Friars Minor on the Island of San Michele, where the municipal cemetery is located; the Venissa vineyards on the Island of Marzabotto (where you can also find a prestigious restaurant); and, the vineyards of the Zitelle Convent, on Giudecca. They are worth a visit, even for teetotalers!

So, what are you waiting to head to Venice?
Have a pleasant stay and, cheers!

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