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Harry’s Bar – Made in Italy

Harry’s Bar: when a myth comes out of friendship

The story of Giuseppe Cipriani and Harry’s Bar, an icon of luxury, synonymous with sophistication and a hangout for celebrities.

reading time4 minutes

Harry’s Bar in Venice, declared a National Heritage Site by the Ministry of Culture in 2001, belongs to the collective imagination, an icon of luxury and synonymous with refinement… Less well known, however, is the story of its legendary founder, Giuseppe Cipriani, one of the first great visionary entrepreneurs of Made in Italy, who created this exclusive venue thanks to a truly extraordinary story revolving around a grand gesture of friendship.

Giuseppe and Arrigo Cipriani
Giuseppe and Arrigo Cipriani

In the name of friendship

Born in Verona in 1900, when Giuseppe was only four years old, his family moved to Germany. However, at the outbreak of World War I, the young man was enlisted in the Italian army. After the war, after working for years as a waiter, in 1927, he took a job as a barman at the Hotel Europa in Venice, and this was the decision that would change his life. One of the clients is Harry Pickering, a young and wealthy American who is in Italy for treating a bout of alcoholism. A deep friendship soon developed between the two, so much so that when Harry was left penniless after a quarrel with his family, it was Giuseppe who lent him 10,000 liras to return to America (a considerable sum for a barman). Two years passed, and Harry, now cured, returned to Italy and, in addition to repaying the loan, added the considerable sum of 30,000 liras as a token of his gratitude. With this money, in 1931, Cipriani bought an old Venetian bar, which he dedicated to his American friend and called Harry’s Bar!


Bellini and carpaccio

Harry’s Bar soon became an exclusive and discreet haunt of celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Orson Welles.

It was here that in 1948 Giuseppe Cipriani invented the rosé cocktail he called Bellini, after the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, known for his shades of pink. But Cipriani also became famous as a restaurateur for a dish of his invention that is now universally known: carpaccio.

Invented in honour of a friend who had been forbidden to eat cooked meat – Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo – it was named after another painter, Vittore Carpaccio, to be precise, as the bright colour of the raw meat was reminiscent of his famous shades of red. The Kandinsky-like decorations with the so-called ‘universal’ sauce gave a particularly sophisticated tone to the dish, which soon spread worldwide.

Carpaccio alla Cipriani

After Giuseppe Cipriani’s retirement, the bar management was taken over by his son Arrigo, who, in 2016, received the Italy USA Foundation’s America Award at the Chamber of Deputies.

The story of Harry’s Bar is also told in Carlotta Cerquetti’s documentary, winner of the Open Prize at Venice Days – Venice Days, Venice 72.