A flicker of yellow light from a lantern down an obscure alley, an illuminated painted name board reflecting in the still black water, a vibrant noisy crowd squeezed in a pokey dim interior with a low ceiling of wooden beams – this is the Venetian aperitivo in the traditional bacaro.
Most travellers to 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 mini pizza and lots of pastry, and have circular conversations about where to go for dinner. In Venice, the aperitivo goes one step further…
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, mysteriously illusive insects, some risqué decoration and the tiniest interior that succeeds in containing all Venetian life.
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 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. Delightfully this bar is also a jazz club and frequently hosts music evenings. More information on upcoming sets can be found here.
Paradiso Perduto (Fondamenta della Misericordi), Cannaregio 2540, tel. 041720581
Fondamenta della Misericordi
Apologies about this one – I couldn’t find a name. However you’ll pass it after Paradiso, and 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.
Your last stop should be the unmissable Al Timon. Although the cicheti here are laden with intriguing flavours and the wine is good, the real draw for me is the boat ‘terrace’ on the canal outside. The slightly-wider-than-comfortable step from pavement to boat while precariously balancing several glasses and a plate of cicheti is heightened to a leap of faith if you leave this bacaro till last when you are already a little befuddled with spritz… But a memorable way to finish the evening sitting carefree cross-legged on a wooden boat swaying gently (from the water’s movement or for other reasons).
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. If you begin your aperitivo here and find you are too ‘relaxed’ to muster the strength for walking to a restaurant you can grab a table and eat here.
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).
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 Grande 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, ironically, 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
While sprawled on the warm stone of the Fondamenta della Misericordia sipping at prosecco and soaking in the last rays, a little wooden boat pulled up smoothly to the mossy steps. Out hopped a young man in a loose white shirt while an elegant matching girlfriend settled herself in the boat. Tethering the boat the man made for the closest bar and returned with their aperitivo to be savoured in the enjoyment of their own private boat terrace. Then off they glided to the next watering hole. It seemed rather magical to explore Venice by night with the occasional prosecco stop. Obviously to avoid getting helplessly lost and just in case there are aquatic drink driving rules I imagine a convenient boat-owning Venetian acquaintance might come in handy. A recommended boat bacaro tour can be found here (in Italian).
This article is now available to download as a GPS enabled map guided you to all the places mentioned in this post! Click on the link below: