Bacari, the real Venice experience
January 1, 1970
by Virginia Zalunardo
Venice is the capital of Veneto, a region in north-east Italy, and it is also my hometown. I’m writing this article because I really feel there’s something people are really missing when visiting Venice. The romantic atmosphere, gondolas, expensive and fancy cafes and restaurants are all well-known images linked to the city, but believe me, Venice is much much more.
Let me introduce you to a real local experience, something that I personally also really like to do, the Bacarata. To understand this magnificent concept you first need to know what Bacaro means (doesn’t it already sound beautifully in your mind?). A bacaro is the typical old Venetian pub, where locals meet before lunch or dinner to have an “ombra” or two (glass of wine in Venetian dialect) accompanied by “cicchetti” (a small portion of food). So, as a consequence, Bacarata is basically a Bacaro crawl (–> pub crawl). This is what I absolutely love doing with my friends in Venice. While walking from a bacaro to another you’ll have the chance to visit the city in a different fun way, getting away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowd. Drinking and eating in such a wonderful historical setting will blow your mind, promised!
What is the best time to have a Bacarata?
When planning your bacarata there are few things you should consider (although being spontaneous and going with the flow is sometimes the best option). First of all, you can decide whether to do it over lunchtime, in this case I’d suggest starting the “tour” at around 11.30, or over dinnertime, in this case you should start at around 5 PM. I usually prefer doing it in the afternoon because I really love Venice in the evening: the atmosphere is more relaxed, fewer tourists are around and it’ll feel like you’ve immersed yourself in some kind of beautiful oniric story, the lights reflecting on the canals, silence. Ok…ok, back to reality. There’s one tiny little problem though, the city is dead after 8 PM and some of the pubs and bacari will be closed (but there’s a solution for it, of course). On the contrary, during lunchtime, everything is more vital and you can choose among a wider variety of places to eat and drink. Con of this solution: you may probably end up drunk by 2 PM.
Another tip: you won’t need to worry about having a proper meal. First of all, because every place you’ll step by you’ll eat something incredibly delicious, and secondly because you simply won’t have time for that. Visiting as many bacari as you can is what will make the difference, trust me. Each bacaro has its own character and tradition, and it’ll be a pity to skip some of them.
What to drink?
This point really deserves some particular attention. There are a lot of traditional drinks you should try when being in Venice, but these are the top ones to have when doing a Bacarata:
A well deserved first place goes to this local sparkling white wine. Many of you might know it already. But what you may not know is that this wine is originally produced in the wine slopes of the Veneto region, more commonly in Valdobbiadene and Conegliano (only a few hours away from Venice), where Prosecco has been awarded the “Protected Denomination of Origin” label. In Venice then, and in the bacari I will list later on, you’ll have the chance to taste the best Prosecco coming directly from the local wine producers, at a very cheap price (a glass ranging from 1€ to 3€).
The iconic Drink (with capital letter!). Venice is the place where this drink was invented, so make sure you drink it at least once! It’s made of Prosecco, sparkling water and Aperol, usually garnished with an orange slice and olive (yummy!). It’s sweet and really refreshing. For the tougher ones, it exists also a stronger version prepared with Campari, which has a bitter taste (this liqueur is indeed called “bitter” by the locals and older people). Another variation that I personally really like because it’s a combination of the two (not too sweet as spritz Aperol, not so bitter as spritz Campari) is the spritz with Select, another Venetian must. The average price for these drinks (at the Bacari) is around 2€-3€.
Local Merlot or Cabernet
If you’re a red wine lover than opt for the local Merlot or Cabernet, but be careful because you might need to interrupt your tour earlier than expected if you only dedicate yourself to this category (eheheheh!)
Last but not least. If a spritz is not enough, this drink will definitely help you fight that painful sobriety. It’s a mix of Campari, Red Martini and sparkling water. I have to warn you though: when you order at the counter you have to specify you want the drink. I’m saying this because when a foreigner orders an Americano, we usually think he wants coffee. (Americano in Italian also refers to the non-espresso coffee).
What to eat?
Another of my favourite topics: food. As I already mentioned you are not only supposed to drink, eating some of the traditional “cicchetti” is also part of the game. As for the drinks, there are a lot of different cicchetti you can find and taste, but here are the essential ones to have a real and unforgettable Venice experience:
- Baccalà mantecato, creamed dried codfish usually served on a slice of fresh bread
- Sarde in saor, fried fresh sardines marinated in onion, vinegar and raisins
- Mozzarella in carrozza, golden-crusted mozzarella cheese sandwich filled with ham or anchovies
- Fried (fresh) calamari
- Selection of local cold cuts and cheese, you can find it literally in every bacaro
- And many many others, you’ll understand me when you’ll try!
Bacarata: Places you shouldn’t miss!
The places I’m describing below are definitely my favourites and the ones that I really believe shouldn’t be missing in your Bacarata. In my opinion, they represent the soul of the city. They are listed in no random order, this tour is the result of years and years of first-hand experience on the field, of thought-through adjustments (you know, drinking (responsibly eh!) is serious stuff!!) and I’m glad to share all of these efforts with you. The starting point of the tour is the main train station/bus terminal and the ending point, well, that’s up to you and your abilities 😉 So, let’s start:
Bacareto da Lele
(Santa Croce, 183) – A stone’s throw from the bus terminal/train station, you will find the first stop of our Bacarata: the super tiny Bacareto da Lele. Although it’s small, it’s impossible to miss since it’s always crowded. It is the after-class meeting point of Venetian university students, perfect opportunity to meet some interesting people (with wine everything gets easier). The leitmotiv of this place is the small size: small place (you can’t sit inside, but just opposite to it there’s a church which stairs apparently have been built only for this purpose), small glasses (but don’t worry, the content won’t disappoint you) but also small prices. A glass of local wine (red or white) is about 0,60€ while a glass of spritz is 1,50€. The food here is not as remarkable as in the other places, I’d suggest trying their selection of cold cuts and cheese for an easy start.
(Campo San Giacometto, 122) – 15-minutes walking distance (if you don’t get lost) from the previous Bacaro, next to the Rialto bridge you will find the osteria Bancogiro. The reason why this place gained a position in my tour is not that of the cheap prices, but food and location indubitably are. The osteria has two entrances, one of them faces the canal and the local market. Make sure you sit on the dock to enjoy one of the most breathtaking views (especially at night) of the city with a spritz in your hand. On your right side is Rialto bridge, while some of the most beautiful examples of baroque Venetian architecture will stand just in front of you on the other side of the canal. Accompany this amazing view and your well-deserved spritz with Baccalà mantecato on bread, believe me, you won’t regret it.
Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso
(San Marco, 5495) – Next stop is just on the other side of Rialto. This bacaro has an incredible variety of cicchetti you can choose among, they are all freshly prepared and delicious (and cheap, very important!). Up to you which one to pick, but it won’t be an easy choice. Another plus of this place is the internal courtyard, a hidden gem where you can sit back for a moment and relax your muscles before heading back to the station. But don’t worry, the tour is not over yet!
Cantina Do Spade
(San Polo, 859) – The last stop of our tour, but surely the one on top of my favourites list. I do love this place so much, and I know I’ve said the same about all the places I’ve mentioned, but this bacaro really holds a special place in my heart (and liver too!). It’s not the cheapest (no one can beat Lele, impossible!), but it has affordable prices. The food is really mouth-watering: you cannot leave without having tried the fried courgette flowers stuffed with baccalà mantecato and the stuffed calamari. The location is also amazing, it’s somehow hidden in a small calle, surrounded by canals, it surely has its own flair. Plus, and most importantly, not a lot of people know it (only the right ones, if you know what I mean). Add a young and friendly environment and you’ll have the perfect grand finale!! I know, it’s just awesome!
Last tip for the ones who decide to take a bacaro tour over lunchtime: consider also stepping over at All’Arco (San Polo, 436 – close to the Cantina Do Spade), one of the oldest and most prized bacaro in Venice. Everyone in town knows it for its good wines and wide selection of cicchetti, ranging from meat to fresh fish. Unfortunately, it’s opened only until 3.30 PM.
This leads us to the end of our tour which includes my favourite places, but Venice is full of bacari, they are an integral part of its history and social life. So if you get lost (and trust me, that will happen after a few glasses of good wine) and you find a place that intrigues you, just go for it! Maybe you’ll also find your personal hidden gem.