Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Harry's Bar; Less is More?

I'm a bit late getting this post up today. I wish I could say it is because I'm recuperating from my visit to the legendary Harry's Bar in Venice, but alas, dear visitors, that would be a lie. I am, however, recovering from a long and arduous return trip from Pennsylvania. Whew! I made it. Thankfully, there was a satisfying bottle of Pindar Merlot waiting to greet me when I got home. After I got to the unpacking, I curled up in my favorite chair, wine in hand and skimmed through a copy of the Harry's Bar Cookbook that I brought back with me from Pennsylvania. Many of you already know, I find cookbooks quite relaxing and the Harry's Bar Cookbook not only filled the need to be whisked away to the "World Famous Venice Bar," it also quenched my appetite for simplicity with a touch of aurora. One needs these things every now again, don't you think?

Did you know, there has been a Harry's Bar in Venice Italy since May 13, 1931. I know this to be true because it is stated by the author, Arrigo Cipriani on page five of the book. Arrigo (Italian for Harry) is the son of Giuseppe Cipriani one of the founders of the discriminating Venetian bar. You may be surprised to discover the "menu" of luxury restaurants and hotels the Cipriani corporation now owns including the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

Harry's Bar opened for business on May 13, 1931, and if all the customers who now say they were there on opening day had actually been there, the bar would have had to be as big as Piazza San Marco. It became successful right away. From the beginning--in 1931 and 1932--the European aristocracy (the jet set of the time) would come to Venice every year, and they started coming to Harry's Bar as soon as it opened. It became the smart place to be, so it was always full of famous people.

There's no denying, Harry's Bar is steeped in history and like many legendary watering holes, there are generations of stories to tempt every palate. Some in which are discussed in the book and anecdotes which are unraveled via the internet.

"Ernest Hemingway was a regular; when he wasn't picking a fight with Sinclair Lewis or drinking all Venice under the table, he would take a case of wine to his room and stay up all night writing, leaving the empties in front of his door to be picked up the next morning. It was in Venice that Hemingway wrote Across the River and into the Trees a few years before he won the Nobel Prize. Orson Welles was another frequent customer; big as an armoire, he would devour shrimp sandwiches by the dozen and wash them down with two bottles of iced Dom Perignon. Generous but disorganized, he often forgot to pay the check. (excerpt from Arcade Publishing's summary of Arrigo Cipriani's book) Harry's Bar;The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark (source)

The number of illustrious patrons to Harry's Bar is priceless. They have included Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, inventor Guglielmo Marconi, Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Princess Aspasia of Greece, Aristotle Onassis, Barbara Hutton, Peggy Guggenheim, and Woody Allen absent of Marshall McLuhan? However, many of the stories are disguised on the menu of Harry's Bar. For instance, when it comes to the story of Carpaccio, the plot thickens. Carpaccio, thinly sliced raw meat, usually beef, tuna or veal, was invented at Harry's Bar by owner Giuseppe Cipriani in 1950. Usually served as an appetizer, Beef Carpaccio was named after Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio whose paintings often featured deep rich red and white colors. It was personally prepared for Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, a friend of Giuseppe's, when she requested a meal which did not include cooked meat. It is said, her doctor had advised her to avoid cooked meats. The perfect finishing touch for Carpaccio is a dressing of mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice; Carpaccio Sauce.

...However, carpaccio also has its origins in Piedmont, where for centuries people have eaten “carne all’albese”. This is traditional carpaccio, served with lemon, garlic, salt and pepper (and maybe a little truffle), whereas the swanky Venetian version included mayonnaise, lemon Worcester sauce. (source)

Classic Carpaccio is made up of beef. Although, Harry's Bar is said not to freeze the beef for thin slicing, I have had great success with previously freezing the beef for the thinnest possible slivers. Today the term Carpaccio refers to any very thinly sliced food with any number of condiments. A recipe for Salsa Carpaccio is included in the book. Since the book suggests using home made mayonnaise, I have included that scanned recipe also.

They say, Venice is for grown-ups and the Piazza San Marco has been called "The drawing room of Europe." A Pilgrimage to Harry's Bar, will more than likely unveil the optimum circumstances concerning the Bellini. As the author states, "It's Harry's Bar--we mustn't forget; it's not Harry's Restaurant. The Bellini has been the bar's most popular drink since Giuseppe Cipriani created it sometime in the 1930's. According to the author, "It didn't have a name until he christened it in honor of the artist for the big Giovanni Bellini exposition in Venice in 1948. The Tiziano Cocktail is a variation of the Bellini, though grape juice is substituted for the peach juice. I'm not quite sure whether it too was named in honor of another Italian painter, Tiziano Vecelli. From the book:

A Tiziano is a Bellini made with grape juice instead of peach puree. It is a special grape juice made from uva fragola, the same grapes that are used to make strawberry wine, a local specialty that is not even sold in stores. Use 1 part chilled grape juice to 3 parts chilled Prosecco.

I'd like to finish this post with a few more notes concerning Ernest Hemingway. He is mentioned in the Harry's Bar Cookbook quite often and I suppose for good reason. He was a regular customer at Harry's Bar and just so happens to be one of my favorite authors. There is a "discreet" ambiance of Hemingway noted in the drink called The Montgomery which is Harry's Bar's version of a dry martini. "It was named by Hemingway in honor of the British general who, he claimed, would fight the enemy only if he had 15 soldiers to their one." Reference is also made to Ernest Hemingway in the section titled Talking About Caviar.

Ernest Hemingway began to frequent Harry's Bar in the forties. One day he came and asked my father if he could find him a 4-pound tin of caviar to give as a birthday present to a Venetian countess who had told him she adored caviar. This countess was famous for her stinginess. Once she had given a beautiful silver chandelier to a friend who was getting married. he wrote her a thank-you note saying how grateful he was for the present. He was, in fact, delighted to have it back, it being one of a pair he had once given her. My father managed with some difficulty, to get the caviar for Hemingway. Two days later the countess herself came into Harry's Bar and asked my father if he needed any caviar, as she had a large tin that she wished to sell.

The international reputation of Harry's Bar lives on today. However, for those non-globetrotters like myself, The Harry's Bar Cookbook not only offers us a refreshing glimpse of the classics, it rewards us with simple restoration found in the straightforward recipes garnished with gossip and chitchat, worthy of a local glass of wine and a meandering evening in a favorite chair.

FYI: Tomorrow is an important day in Marshmallow Fluff history. I'm going to try to share some recipes from a Fluff book I brought down from PA tomorrow.  Just in case I don't get to it, here's a link to a few scanned recipes (including one for Fluff Pie) from the The Yummy Cookbook from when I was Fluffing with Inventions on Inventors' Day last year. (Don't worry, I checked the links, they aren't stale:)

1. Pindar Merlot
2. Venetian Style Italian Food
3. A Hemingway Adventure
4. Across the River and Into the Trees (Synopses & Review @ Powell Books)
5. How Carpaccio is Traditionly Made


  1. Thanks, I enjoyed the little details about Harry's.

  2. Hi Louise - Thanks for linking my carpaccio in your terrific post! I had fun perusing Vittore Carpaccio's paintings to find one that looked like my dish. I think the capers in my dish, and the dots is the painting sealed the deal.
    Your post is so interesting, great story!
    Lori Lynn

  3. Thanks Mae, I'll be stopping by your place before I leave.

    Hi LL,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I do indeed think your capers "sealed the deal." You had such a delectable post I just couldn't resist. Thanks so much for sharing...

  4. Thank you for finding and providing us this info.

  5. Thank you amazing blog, do you have twitter, facebook or something similar where i can follow your blog

    Sandro Heckler


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Thanks for dropping in...Louise