DRINK LIKE A VENETIAN
Illustrations by Patrick Vale
A short hop from St Mark's Square and the fine cafés dotted around it, just across the Rialto Bridge, lies a little joint named Bancogiro...
There are two-dozen punters squished into a bar area that might comfortably fit eight. Around 10 bottles of white wine stand uncorked in a car tyre-sized ice bucket, while 12 more reds at various stages of consumption are lined up on the marble counter. With prices starting at €1.50 a glass, patrons sway with a backslapping bonhomie. Some tell naughty jokes in Veneziano, the local dialect, then bang their fists on the bar for top-ups. Others gorge on the fishy delicacies that tempt from the glass display cabinet from €1 upwards. Known as cicchetti, these bites are Venice's answer to tapas, and in this case include crispy baccalà (salt cod) fritters, and anchovy and caper tarts. According to Venice wine and culture blogger Nan McElroy of www.VenetianVine.com: "Cicchetti are strictly Venetian. And like most Italian foods, they are defined at the heart by local ingredients and customs." Establishments like Bancogiro (San Polo 122, Campo San Giacometto, tel: +39 041 523 2061) are known as bàcari - the name derives from the Roman god of wine, Bacchus - and make for one of Europe's cheapest nights out. It's this legion of backstreet bars that 60,000 Venetians go to in order to avoid the nearly 60,000 daily visitors who amble along their canals. Most bàcari are functional in feel, eschewing tables for a communal counter top, a stool or two, and a shelf just wide enough to perch a sardine sandwich. As McElroy puts it: "Bàcari are made for the short pause, when you've simply no time to sit down." Bàcari are where Venice comes alive and people chat, laugh and munch. The atmosphere is always one of conviviality. As well as offering ludicrously cheap local vintages, including Refosco and Schioppettino reds from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, the bars are also the best place to try authentic Venetian delicacies - from nervèti (boiled veal tendons in vinegar) to folpeti (baby octopus). If you want to meander tipsily through Venice's bona-fide foodie scene, this is definitely the way to do it. Around the corner from Bancogiro the party continues at Bar al Mercà (San Polo 276, tel: +39 041 522 5743). By day this bàcaro serves up tarry espressos to traders at the market (open Mon-Sat, 7.30am-1pm); by night it's a hole-in-the-wall boozer. Dozens of young Venetians stagger around outside in their regulation Puffa jackets, tight jeans and white trainers. But instead of knockdown wines, all are clutching a bright orange cocktail known as a spritz. Drink in hand, I enquire after the recipe from a bar regular called Angela, who is from Mestre on the Venetian mainland. She tells me spritz is a mix of "Martini, Prosecco and Aperol", the latter a fiery bitter made from rhubarb, oranges and medicinal herbs. It's also garnished with green olives. Non-purists, I'm told, "are swapping the Aperol for Cynar", a traditional Italian liqueur made from artichokes. It must be nicer than it sounds. Belly full, €25 down and 12 units of alcohol to the worse, I call it a night. Venice's surest hangover cure is a double caffè macchiato taken in any of the city's bàcari. Some locals swear by "caffè corre o" too. Literally "corrective coffee", it's an espresso laced with a slug of grappa to recalibrate the brain a er a night of excess. I stand to sip my drink at the counter top. Nursing a coffee a tavola (at the table) can double the bill in Venice. Si ing alfresco can cost even more. Daytime bàcari offer a top selection of bargain Venetian nibbles too. Many locals rely on these bars as an alternative to the walk - or boat ride - home for the midday meal. Lunch is taken seriously in Venice and revolves around tramezzini, triangular Venetian sandwiches. They cost about €1.50 apiece and typical fillings include asparagus with egg, shrimp with homemade mayonnaise, or tuna with olive. Diners chase down their order with a €1 glass of white wine, known here as an "ombra", or "shadow". Amazingly, this whole lunchtime dining process is often performed standing at the bar. The bàcari scene picks up again post-work. At 6pm I'm back on my budget booze 'n' food cruise, although now I'm seeking something more refined than last night. A few boutique-laden blocks north of St Mark's Square is Marchini Time (San Marco 4598, Campo San Luca, tel: +39 041 241 3087). The bar dazzles its ritzy clientele with around 40 sweet and savoury bites atop a marble counter from €1 and up: biscotti, cream horns, berry tarts, macaroons, jammy dodgers, cheese puffs and chocolates in the shape of Venetian carnival masks. Tipsy, yet not quite stuffed, I fall upon El Sbarlefo (Salizzada del Pistor, off Campo Santi Apostoli, Cannaregio 4556, tel: +39 041 523 3084), a nearby bàcaro recommended by some locals I met the previous evening. It's the tightest bar yet, the size of a snooker table with just a single barman, proprietor Andrea Tonini, manning the counter.It's part of a new breed of upscale bàcari, combining keen prices (spritz is just €2) with great jazz, gourmet cicchetti and regional wines. "In Venice, there are thousands of bars. But sometimes the quality of the food that's offered is mediocre," says Tonini. "Three years ago, we launched El Sbarlefo.A bàcaro, yes, but 'revisited'. Our cicchetti evoke traditional, local flavours, and wines have been carefully chosen." I kick off with an organic red from Friuli-Venezia Giulia (€2), move on to a fizzy Barbera (€1.50) and lose track after a deep violet Refosco (€2) from across the lagoon. Plates of cicchetti arrive thick and fast - sarde in saor (marinated sardines), baccalà mantecato (creamy cod purée), cuttlefish fricassee with olives, tuna-stuffed peppers - and I'm speaking dialect myself by 10pm (I think). My last truly conscious moment is when a patron orders a round of salami sandwiched between two slices of oily focaccia bread, then proceeds to feed it to his Labrador washed down with a fine red! Everyone eats and drinks well in Venice. It's hard not to, when you know how.
THE PERFECT SPRITZ
by Marchini Time head bartender Diego Tognin "Spritz is the city's most popular cocktail. It's an aperitivo completo - a perfect, complete aperitif with a vibrant orange colour. To make the perfect spritz, mix your choice of the following components in three equal parts - there is no classic spritz combination - then shake well, pour over ice and garnish with a slice of orange and an olive. Cin cin!" 1/3 white wine or Prosecco 1/3 Aperol, Select or Campari (sweet, medium-sweet or bitter Italian aperitifs) 1/3 carbonated water