Among the anointed at iconic Harry’s Bar

The iconic Harry’s Bar in Venice

By Douglas Parker

Harry’s Bar is a world-famous restaurant bar in Venice. In 2001, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs named it a national landmark. One source claims that the place evokes “not simply a cuisine, or a kind of drink, but a frame of mind.”

When in Venice, my wife and I found Harry’s Bar. It wasn’t easy. It sits on the Grand Canal in the San Marco siestere. One enters by a side door – the only door – off the Calle Vallaresso. For me, it was like discovering the Holy Grail.

We went in. Others were there eating, but we weren’t hungry. Even if I had crawled in dying of starvation, I wouldn’t have eaten there – wildly expensive. After all, it’s Harry’s Bar.

We sat at the bar. I felt I was immediately recognized as a man of taste and possibly wealth. I was wearing my 10-year-old Wind River jacket from Mark’s Work Warehouse. If you have the moxie to dress down, people think you’ve got money, right?

There were four bar stools; we occupied 50 per cent of them. I asked to see the drinks menu. I saw it and felt my pupils dilate, experiencing what I thought was a small stroke, not enough to draw attention, but enough to leave me with a twitch in my left eye, like Herbert Loam in Pink Panther.

The waiters were all decked out in white dinner jackets with black bow ties; I thought of Rick in Casablanca. My wife ordered a Campari and soda. I eschewed the famous Harry’s Bellini – why conform when you can stand apart? – and opted for a gin and tonic. Rather than using a measuring jigger, the barkeeper eyeballed my gin. I added the tonic; it was strong but painfully delightful.

A bowl of olives magically appeared. I ate as many as I could. It’s amazing how many olives you can cram into your mouth at once and still deal with the pits. The barkeep brought me a swizzle stick. I asked for one for my wife, and one appeared. At this point, I knew I had an “in” with the man. It was maybe my jacket. I asked him, in all innocence, what goes into a Negroni. A few minutes later, one appeared in front of me – on the house. I winked at the barkeep; he winked back. It was all mildly erotic. I put on my sunglasses.

Four rather self-important people came into the restaurant: two women with male escorts. The women seemed oblivious to their surroundings, looking straight ahead, as if no one was there – and to them probably no one was. One walked to the table with her head in the air as if she had a bad smell under her nose. Maybe it was my Wind River jacket. One of the guys, an aging roue, had black hair, screamingly dyed, as if with shoe polish. Cowhide pallour. The younger of the two women wore a sailor’s cap and other clothes as well, something in a leopard pattern. The maitre d’ in two-piece blue mufti grovelled to their aid. He looked haggard and tired; so did his badly knotted tie. Years of grovelling at Harry’s perhaps.

We felt blessed to be among the anointed. I was hoping that Eastwood might stroll in. You know, Dirty Harry in Harry’s – that would have been something. Not certain how much strolling old Clint is doing these days. He and Robert Duvall probably need to prop each other up. That visit, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

When in Venice, go to Harry’s Bar. Take money.

Douglas Parker is a 29 year Glebe resident with an interest in English Reformation literature, history and theology.

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