Hours of canal-side strolling in one of the world’s prettiest cities inevitably calls for liquid refreshment, but where to go? In Venice, quaint osteria stand alongside sophisticated cocktail clubs; here is bar manager Marta Barbaglia’s expert guide to the best bars in the floating city.
Drinking in Venice is traditionally more focused towards the elegant spritz and cicchetti (small plates) bars, rather than over-the-top cocktail creations. However, the establishment of the Experimental Cocktail Club (a brand that’s already proven hugely successful in Paris, New York and London) in Venice in August 2019 is symptomatic of the new and exciting bar scene emerging in the city.
Culture Trip sits down with the bar manager of Il Palazzo Experimental & ECC Venice, Marta Barbaglia – who previously worked in London’s Happiness Forgets bar – to find out her favourite drinking places in the city.
Barbaglia manages the bar at the latest outlet of the renowned Experimental group, set in the Il Palazzo Experimental boutique hotel; the destination is fittingly Venetian, a restored Renaissance palace overlooking the Giudecca Canal in the Dorsoduro. It’s located just outside the tourist drag in the city’s sophisticated university district. “Our little bar’s been very busy with the opening,” Barbaglia says, gesturing to a cosy and stylish interior adorned with antique mirrors and marble. The clientele includes a mix of hotel guests and other curious visitors looking for something different. Cocktails are around €12 (£10.50), and Barbaglia’s top recommendation is the Ponte Lungo, made with Cachaça Yaguara, Cocchi Americano, fennel syrup and fresh lime juice.
Translating as ‘The Merchant’, the name of this bar in Campo dei Frari reflects its theme – it honours iconic, well-known merchants and explorers throughout history. A Marco Polo-themed menu was followed by one dedicated to Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, and it has also designed one around Sir Francis Drake, with drinks such as the Invincible Armada, The New World and Drake’s Treasure. “All the cocktails have a story behind them,” says Barbaglia. “So, definitely try something new on the menu; as well as classic cocktails, it has a great selection of spirits on its back bar.” Cocktails start at €11 (£9.50).
Located on the Grand Canal close to the Rialto Bridge, AMO is a restaurant in the atrium of the Medieval Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a 16th-century building and one of Venice’s luxurious palaces. It’s part of the Alajamo restaurant group, with interiors curated by French designer Philippe Starck (he of the famous ghost chair), sofas inspired by gondolas and walls adorned with Venetian carnival patterns. “The building itself is beautiful,” says Barbaglia. “I suggest going later in the evening when only the bar is open, and you have the building all to yourself.” Cocktails begin at €10 (£8.60).
Despite the name Cantine del Vino già Schiavi emblazoned above the door, this very popular bacari (a typical tavern in Venice) near the Gallerie dell’Accademia is known as Al Bottegon (bottegon translates to store in Venetian). “It’s a real institution over here,” says Barbaglia. “It has a big selection of wines and spirits; if you’re looking for something rare, it will have it. It’s only stand-up [no seats], and what you have to do here is have a glass of wine and cicchetti.” Prices are also quite reasonable – enjoy a glass of wine and a few of the small plates while on your way to your next sightseeing destination.
This small cocktail bar with very friendly staff in the Cannaregio sestiere (district) is off the beaten tourist track and usually populated by Venetian residents – something of a rarity in the city. “Try to go on a quiet night,” says Barbaglia, unless you want to mingle with its main clientele – those attending universities in Venice. “Because its price range is quite low, around €6 to €8 (£5-7), it also draws many students on weekends.” With a strong focus on mixology and a list that veers towards rum (try the Caribbean Negroni, which features the spirit mixed with home-made vermouth), TiME Social Bar is refreshingly relaxed when compared to the opulence of some of the more grandiose hotels.
Without doubt, Harry’s Bar is one of the most famous bars in Venice. After all, it is here where the bellini cocktail (fresh peach juice and sparkling wine) came to be, invented by the bar’s founder, Giuseppe Cipriani. Deemed a national landmark in 2001, Harry’s Bar has a lively atmosphere.
Located in the Metropole Hotel, the Oriental Bar has “a very different atmosphere” than many of Venice’s bars, in Barbaglia’s opinion. “It’s more of a classic hotel bar. The price range is a bit higher, but it has some very nice food,” she explains. She advises sticking to classic drinks here – visitors can choose from one of a dozen martinis or 30 different varieties of spritzes. Sit back and relax amid the plush red-velvet interiors and reflect on the building’s impressive history while you sip. It used to be an orphanage and church where Vivaldi gave lessons, and as a hotel, its guests have included Sigmund Freud and Marcel Proust.
According to Barbaglia,“[Vino Vero] is the place to go for wine in Venice.” Though its size may not be impressive, its menu certainly is: “It’s very small, but its selection is great. It has local wines, some natural wines, and it’s always on the search for something new.” The bar lies on Fondamenta Misericordia opposite the Chiesa di San Marziale – grab one of the outside tables on the canal. Prices are quite reasonable, with wines available by the glass as well as the bottle. You won’t get Venice’s typical spritz here, but you’ll be delighted with an excellent red barolo or an adventurous orange wine.
Bar, Restaurant, Wine, Italian, Seafood, Mediterranean, $$$
Enoteca Al Volto has over 1000 bottles of wine – if you can't decide, opt for the prosecco | Courtesy of Enoteca Al Volto
Located a few steps away from the Rialto Bridge, Enoteca Al Volto is one of the oldest wine bars in Venice and has a selection of over 1,000 Italian and international wines. If you need help choosing a bottle, there are daily specials, and the enoteca’s staff are very knowledgeable and always happy to help. Enoteca Al Volto also has a restaurant that serves mouth-watering Italian cuisine, including home-made pasta and seafood from the Adriatic.