Somethings will never get old to me. Wandering the narrow alleys of Venice in search of cicchetti and wine are one of them.
Venice is my favorite Italian city for an afternoon cantina crawl. Who wouldn’t want to partake in a glass of wine and an aperitivo with this beautiful city as your back drop? Lace up your walking shoes and bring your appetite because we are going on a Venetian bacaro walk!
A “bacaro” (pronounced båcaro with the accent on the first a, or bacari if plural) is a traditional Venetian wine bar or cantina. Luckily for us Venice is littered with these little gems! Historically bacari are simple, small establishments with standing room only. Patrons leisurely eat and drink while standing at the bar, or wherever they can find room! Space being what it may, bacari get quite packed and noisy. So, arrive early, around 17:00, to beat the crowds and get the first pick of the cicchetti.
Old world Venetian bacaros were the birthplace of “cicchetti” – the Venetian version of tapas or small bite sized appetizers. Traditional cicchetti consist of various kinds of stewed seafood or lard on a toast, bite sized sandwiches and pickled vegetables. These small bites are simply prepared with emphasis on freshness and quality ingredients. Cicchetti are usually displayed on the bar counter behind a glass partition. Ordering is easy! Just point to the item behind the glass that you would like and the bartender will keep a running tab for you. I love making a meal on a budget out of sampling cicchetti and house wine!
Some of my favorite Cantinas to get you on your way:
Cantina do Mori: San Polo District
My personal favorite and usually my first stop on my bacaro crawl. Owned by Venetian native, Pierre, this little gem has been a local institution since 1462. Legend has it Do Mori was frequented by Casanova and his lady loves. Oh la la! Cichetti are made fresh in house. Arrive no later than 19:00 to snag glass and a casual chat with Pierre.
Cantina do Spade: San Polo District
Right around the corner from Cantina do Mori, this cantina is alway bustling no matter what time you arrive. If you are in the mood for a full meal head to the back for restaurant seating. Of if you are into just snacking, be sure to try the sarde do spade (marinaded sardines) and calamari ripieni (stuffed squid).
All’Arco: San Polo District
Just a few steps from Do Mori & Do Spade this one room tavern specializes in open faced crostini topped with loads of fresh seafood. Arrive early to snag one of the tiny 4 tables out front.
Bancogiro: Rialto District
Osteria in the front, bacaro in the back. Sit outside at one of their tiny tables to experience a true Venetian vibe, complete with views of the Grand Canal and Italian architecture. Bancogiro fills quickly, be sure to stop in while the night is still young.
Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi: Dorsoduro District
Just over a picturesque footbridge and close to The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, this tiny eatery offers 500 different wines and fresh cicchetti made daily. Wonderfully affordable and totally Venetian.
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If more of a traditional sit down, multi course meal tickles your fancy, try some of my favorites haunts:
Café Florian : San Marco District
Ahhh… Cafe Florian…the very famous, very seductive cafe nestled in the corner of St Marks Square. This lavish ristorante has been open since the 1700’s and is decked out with Neo-baroque splendor. If it looks fancy, that’s because it is. Save your pennies and sit outside for dessert and listen to the band under the lights and magic that is St. Mark’s Square at night. I have to admit I visit their bar several times while I am in Venice -head toward the back and find the tiny bar to the left. If you are lucky Morro will be tending bar, who will treat you with great hospitality and even better peach bellinis!
Ristorante Al Covo : Castello District
Made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain this rustic yet white table cloth restaurant sets the bar on fresh locally sourced ingredients, and quality. Go with an empty belly, their tasting menu does not disappoint. Make a reservation well in advance and check for seasonal closures.
Nevodi : Castello District
This cozy eatery is affordable and delicious. Fresh buffalo burrata cheese arrives daily, order it when you as soon as you sit down or risk it selling out. Nevodi or “Nephew” in English is family run and fills up quickly. Call to make a reservation for one of the two evening seatings and thank me later.
Farini Bakery : Cannaregio/San Polo/San Lio
Part bistro, part bakery, this is more or less a “chain” style quick serve eatery. But don’t let that put you off. Their pizza and pastries are made fresh every morning and they make a perfect snack to stow in your carryon for a quick bite later. If you enjoy their offerings you can also find them in Milan. Oh, and they serve up a pretty mean espresso!
“Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.” -John Keats