Words by John Brunton
Alla Vedova - The Widow’s Place - is the ultimate Venetian bacaro, run by the same family for over a century. Utterly romantic, the decor looks as if it hasn’t changed since the day it opened, with ancient copper pans hanging from the ceiling, rough wooden tables and rickety chairs, faded posters and paintings decorating the walls. Tourists tend to book a table - and the food is excellent, especially the ‘spaghetti alle vongole - but this is an authentic ‘bacaro’, so the real action takes place standing up with the locals, among the crowds that teem round the marble bar. Regulars drift in and out every five minutes, ordering an ‘ombra de vin’, a glass of house white or red and a ‘polpetta’, an irresistible deep-fried meatball, all for under a pound. On a typical day the kitchen turns out more than 500 polpette, and you have to be really fast to grab one before the plate empties.
Ramo Ca’ d’Oro, Cannaregio 3192, 041 528 5324
Alex Biscontin has turned his tiny family bacaro into the hottest bar in town right now, packed with fashionable young Venetians and hip students every evening. Al Timon sits on a long waterside ‘fondamenta’ lined with lively bars and restaurants in downtown Cannaregio, the funkiest part of town, where you realise that Venice is not really a sleepy museum city, but somewhere you can party till the early hours if you have the right addresses. This is a typical bacaro on the inside, with blackened beams and a long counter piled high with tempting ‘cicheti’, the Venetian take on tapas; rucola salad with lardo and sundried tomato, a julienne of grilled zucchini with pecorino cheese, a chunk of mortadella - all priced at under a pound. Al Timon really comes alive at night though, with crowds sitting outside by the canal, drinking lethal ‘Spritz al Bitter’ aperitifs - always ask for Spritz with Campari rather than the wimpy Aperol - while Alex’s flat-bottomed boat moored outside becomes an impromptu venue for concerts.
Fondamenta Ormesini, Cannaregio 2754, 00 39 041 524 6066
The labyrinth of narrow alleyways that encircle the bustling Rialto market are a goldmine for old-fashioned ‘bacari’ - Vini da Pinto outside the fish stalls, Cantina do Mori, perhaps the oldest bar in Venice - but the real insider address is the Ciurma which only opened a couple of years ago. A centuries-old storeroom has been converted into a tiny bar that resembles the inside of a boat - ‘ciurma’ means ‘the crew’ - and it is easy to spot because the place is so packed that customers spill out onto the street. An ombra of the excellent house wine is just under a pound, but there is also a wide selection of high quality whites and reds available by the glass from the nearby vineyards of the Veneto and Friuli. But the real reason people come here is the cooking of the friendly owner, Marco. Working out of the smallest kitchen imaginable, he is a magician, conjuring up classics like creamy ‘baccala’ and polpette made from tuna, but also a bubbling saucepan of fish risotto for dish of the day or ‘musetto’ sausage smothered with mustard. And behind the bar is the radiant Nicole, who effortlessly charms both grizzled Venetian pensioners and bemused tourists.
Calle Galeazza, San Polo 405, 00 39 041 523 9514
Cantinone Vini gia Schiavi
Known to Venetians as the Bottegon - the bottle shop - this legendary ‘bacaro’ is a favourite haunt of fashionable Venetians, Brit and American expats living in this chic Dorsoduro neighbourhood, students and their professors from the nearby university, and tourists that can include passing A-listers like Brad and Angelina. The Bottegon sits on the idyllic San Trovaso canal, opposite one of the last workshops still making gondolas, and in summer, crowds mill around the water’s edge while rowers glide along the canal, moor their boat and then head in for a drink and ciccheto. Three brothers run the bar - Tommaso, Pietro and Paolo - but it is their ‘mamma’, Sandra, who is known as the Queen of Ciccheti. She presides over a glass counter stuffed with irresistible bite-sized snacks - creamed pumpkin with ricotta, a tuna tartare sprinkled with cocoa powder, smoked swordfish with parmesan. Prices are just from around a pound. The Bottegon also has a reputation as one of the finest and largest wine collections in town, either by the glass or to take out.
Ponte San Trovaso, Dorsoduro 992, 00 39 041 523 0034
The sign outside may say ‘trattoria’, but this venerable locale on the ground floor of a 17th century palazzo has been a traditional ‘bacaro’ for over a century. Located on the lively Via Garibaldi, perfectly placed next to the entrance that leads into the Giardini of the Biennale of Art, the bar is run by Fabio Fontebasso, while his sister, Fabie, runs the rustic dining room at the back, cooking classic Venetian dishes like ‘spaghetti al nero di seppia’, pasta in a rich squid ink sauce. The bar opens at the ungodly hour of 4.50am - a good option, though, if you’re coming out of an after-hours Biennale party - and in the early morning there is a colourful mix of stallholders and shoppers, while moored right outside is one of the last floating fruit and veg boats in Venice. The bar is lower that street level - hence the name, La Rampa - and during the regular Acqua Alta high water, it quickly floods, though this doesn’t deter regulars, who drink their Spritz al Bitter or bubbly Prosecco wearing waterproof wellies.
Via Garibaldi, Castello 1582, 00 39 041 0991434