Last orders at Harry's Bar: banks call time on Venice's legendary Cipriani family

 

Their establishment is as much a part of the Venice myth as the canals, gondolas and the Rialto Bridge. But now last orders have come for the Cipriani family, who have run Harry's Bar in Venice for 81 years.

After three years' of mounting debts, bean counters are stepping to take over the legendary watering hole where Orson Welles, Truman Capote and Noel Coward, sipped – or necked – its famous Bellini and dry martini cocktails.

Even charging €20 (£16) a go for its cocktails has not been enough to save the bar from the grip of a seemingly endless recession. Judging from the customers' comments on travel websites, the stratospheric prices might even have been part of the problem.

The banks have insisted on sending in Gianluca D'Avanzo and Salvatore Cerchione from Blue Skye Investment, a Luxembourg company, to overhaul the bar's organisation and radically cut costs in return for wiping out debts of nearly £5m.

Arrigo Cipriani, the 80-year-old son of the bar's founder Giuseppe, said he had tried several times to negotiate with the bar's 75 staff members to alter working practices and cut wages.

The staff, who account for 55 per cent of the bar's costs, say they are needed in such numbers to guarantee the establishment's famously attentive service. Suggestion of pay cuts and voluntary redundancy were met with strike action.

Mr Cirpriani told Corriere Della Sera newspaper: "From 2008 to today we have seen a 20 to 30 per cent fall in our clientele. These days, many day-trippers come to Venice, but not quality tourists. We cannot deny that we miss the Americans who were a guaranteed clientele for the whole year, we are feeling that. And that is not compensated by the new wave of rich Russians or Chinese."

In wresting control of the bar from the Cipriani family, the financial crisis has managed what even fascism and the Second World War failed to do. In the 1930s and 40s, unscrupulous rival bars and restaurants in the lagoon city resorted to smear tactics to lure customers away.

There were rumours that the bar, situated in a narrow passage off St Mark's Square, by the edge of the Grand Canal, was a secret hangout for homosexuals and that conspiring Jews gathered there in defiance of the racist segregation laws.

But such rumours had little effect – and probably attracted much of its most louche and Bohemian clientele, including Somerset Maugham, Peggy Guggenheim and Charlie Chaplin.

Today's grim cost-cutting and management consultancy edicts are a long way away from 1949 when, Ernest Hemingway, one of its most famous patrons, first stepped into the bar and quickly adopted his own table in the Concordia room. He set about writing Over the River and Into the Trees there.

That didn't stop the Nobel laureate drinking industrial amounts of the bar's cocktails, however. "He was generous to a fault, and filled more pages of his cheque book than those of a medium-length novel," Harry's founder Giuseppe Cipriani once said.

Spin-off Cipriani bars, clubs and restaurants now operate in many other cities around the world. But Cipriani, Abu Dhabi, just doesn't have the same ring about it.

Called to the bar: the famous patrons

Many of the great and the good have graced the tables at Harry's Bar. Ernest Hemingway had his own table in the corner when he was a regular patron in 1949-1950 and made frequent reference to it in his book, Across the River and Into the Trees. Other famous patrons include Truman Capote, Orson Welles and Henry Fonda. According to the bar's website, the Cubist visionary Georges Braque once ambled in pleading poverty and offering a painting in exchange for food. Giusepple Cipriani, refused the painting but told Braque: "I don't care if you don't have any money today, eat your fill and pay me when you do."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week