GUEST ARTICLE: A flicker of yellow light from a lantern down an obscure alley, a peeling painted sign reflecting in the still black water, a vibrant noisy crowd squeezed into a dim interior with a low ceiling of wooden beams – this is the Venetian aperitivo in the traditional bacaro.
Most travellers in Italy will be familiar with the legendary aperitivo – free-flowing prosecco, spritz by the dozen and, most importantly, free food. Starting from as early as 6pm, it’s a golden hour to meet with friends, snack on tramezzini and lots of pastry, and have circular conversations about where to go for dinner. In Venice, the aperitivo is even more special…
The Bacari Crawl
Students, i veci (old people), and workers all come together in the bacaro. A couple can be found on the main tourist drag, but to mingle with some non-English speakers you need to lose yourself in the quieter areas. There is obviously no guarantee of stumbling across the perfect atmospheric bacaro this way so with recommendations from a student friend in Venice, I’ve compiled a version of the standard student bacaro ‘crawl’ featuring a boat terrace, some risqué decoration and the tiniest interior that succeeds in containing all Venetian life.
Fondamenta Ormesini Tour
A whole evening can be spent meandering from bar to bar along this canal-side street. Begin at the side furthest from the station, named Fondamenta della Misericordia, where it branches off from the Rio di Noale. Pop into any bacaro that captures your imagination, and if the setting sun’s last rosy rays are still glinting on the water take your drink and plate of snacks outside and sit by the canal with your feet dangling over the water.
A classic dark wooden interior offering a mouth-watering range of cicheti (little pieces of bread with toppings or other mini snacks, the Italian tapas) particularly featuring fried sea food. Order a plate of freshly fried gamberetti with your prosecco or spritz. Due to its reasonable prices and delicious food Paradiso Perduto has become extremely popular for dinner meaning places are booked up weeks in advance. But bacari are more traditionally for drinking so avoid the rush, grab your aperitivo and return outside to breathe in the damp salty air of Venice.
Paradiso Perduto (Fondamenta della Misericordi), Cannaregio 2540, tel. 041720581
Serving Hatch Bacaro
Seemingly nameless, you pass this bacaro after Paradiso, and will hopefully recognise it from the photo below. This tiny little bar is mainly on the list because of its potential for a sly practical joke played on a drunken friend. Some of the more traditional bacari have a serving hatch outside to avoid a crush at the metre long bar, but make sure you do pop inside this one and visit the tanks of stick insects, which shrewd visitors will realise are only visible as a figment of a very intoxicated imagination.
There are several intruiging stops along the way, but your last should be the unmissable Al Timon. Although the cicheti here are laden with intriguing flavours and the wine is good, the real draw is the boat ‘terrace’ on the canal outside. There’s a slightly-wider-than-comfortable step from pavement to boat, made all the more challenging when precariously balancing several glasses of prosecco and a plate of cicheti. It’s a memorable way to finish the evening sitting carefree cross-legged on a wooden boat swaying gently.
Osteria Al Timon (Fondamenta degli Ormesini), Cannaregio 2754 tel. 39 041 524 6066
The Rialto Tour
Hidden amongst the maze of streets surrounding the Rialto Bridge is a scattering of tempting softly-lit bars. Being a slightly more touristy area an evening drinking here will weigh a little heavier on the pocket, however some bacari are worth it.
Cantina do Spade
This is a long-standing Venetian favourite serving typical local dishes such as sarde in saor, liver alla veneziana and baccalà. You can begin with an aperitivo here and then, if those cooking smells become too torturous, grab a table in their restaurant.
Cantina do Spade. San Polo, 859, 30125. Tel. +39 0415210583
Keep this place as a ‘one drink’ stop as the prices aren’t too kind, but visit to enjoy your drink beneath a ceiling strung with bras… all colours, all decorations, all sizes… (supposedly left by previous patrons but considering the number that’s hard to believe).
Bacaro Jazz, S. Marco, 5546, 30124, tel.041 528 5249
A student hotspot, this is actually a whole campo (square) whose now abandoned fruit and vegetable shops have been transformed into bars and restaurants. Take a drink outside and, as one Venetian saying goes, gaze at the reflections of the elegant palazzi in the Grand Canal and try to work out if their flickering movement is the fault of the water or the wine…
Visit bacari Naranzaria and Al Merca. Campo dell’Erbaria, Rialto
One stand-alone bar is worth spending time in – Bacareto da Lele in the Campo dei Tolentini. You will be immersed in Venetian eccentricity in this diminutive interior. In fact most patrons choose to perch on the pavement edge or, boldly, on the steps of the piazza’s church such are the space limitations within (bacareto literally means little bacaro).
Il Bacareto da Lele (Campo dei Tolentini) Santa Croce, 183