November is the right month. Perfect indeed. It’s a time «across the river and through the trees», of raw, never-ending beauty. And it’s a month without tourists. So it comes as no surprise that - once we’ve left the mists of the rainy Venetian countryside, lunched at the Locanda Aurilia in Loreggia, a magnificent old-fashioned restaurant where the classic goose menu is now served, and parked the car in Piazzale Roma - Venice (and the lagoon, and Torcello, and Burano, and the metaphysical Pellestrina) reveals itself to us with an undeniable, elusive magic. And we fall for it as if it were the first time. It must be said: Venice is the woman one loves, other cities are the woman one marries. At this time it is already dark; the promises of the night are far away. So let’s tighten up our tabard (a «Mercante padano» of the Tabarrificio Veneto, aged and mileage-wise), cross Piazza San Marco, retrace our steps along Salizada San Moise and go down Calle Vallaresso. For those who know, the address alone ignites the memory; for the others, here is a literary quote which in two lines reveals everything: «Then he found himself pulling open the door of Harry’s Bar and went inside, and he had made it again and was home». Dear old Hemingway, this is where the legendary Giuseppe Cipriani would prepare your drinks; and here, today, we are proudly served by the barmen trained by his son Arrigo, the owner of a catering group with 3000 employees. This evening he is here, so we seize the opportunity for a quick chat, between one extra dry Martini cocktail and another.
Arrigo Cipriani, how are you?
I am very well, thank you. I am in my 90th year and have the energy of a 50-year-old. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to practice karate for a long time, which is a discipline that enables one to understand oneself in the manner of the Orientals. You see, they begin with the body and work their way up to the mind, whereas we do the opposite, which causes us some problems. You always have to start from the body, and that goes for cities too.
Even for Venice?
I’ll tell you about a fundamental intuition I had during the pandemic, when I walked around the city twice as much as I usually do. Then again, I had time. Venice is not a city that was made on a budget. It is an embodiment of the spirit. The man who laid the first stone of the Doge’s Palace knew he would not see it finished. But he laid it anyway. This manner of engagement is all that we lack today. Venice was built house by house, not by urban planners, but by its citizens. But only a few residents remain. Thirty years ago, there were 150.000 of us, and life was great in the neighborhood. Now, we down to just 32.000, and at ninety I am the youngest! The various mayors have failed to address the main issue: keeping the population here and the jobs.
How have the last few months been at Harry’s Bar?
Good. The change of air was essential: from our small bar we remove 25.000 cubic meters of air every hour. For the rest, the tourists are coming back. Our employees are the same as they were before the pandemic. The same philosophy: we have cooks, not chefs. Innovation for us is about keeping up with tradition. And without hysteria, that’s a consequence of Facebook and we’d rather leave it at that.
But you’re famous for liking speed!
Well actually, I do have a supercar that I talk to. A Mercedes. I’ve never had an accident, although I do speed up to 240 Km/h when I’m driving. At the age of 18 I wanted to be a pilot. For me, speed is one of the aspects of freedom. I regard this car as a true luxury object, because it was made with the utmost intelligence, will and passion. The same occurs in our kitchens. The other night one of our guests described the tripe he was eating as «moving».
How tall are the legendary armchairs at Harry’s?
They are just the right height. My father designed them according to the height of the tables - which at Harry’s have three legs so they don’t move. My father was a genius. I had two bosses in my life: him and my son. That’s great luck. So I was able to love life, and Venice, which for me is a mirror of life.
Recently in New York, coming soon in Milan
The latest version of the Cipriani brand is Casa Cipriani New York, recently opened in the historic Battery Maritime Building, (one of the last remaining ferry terminals in Manhattan), with 47 rooms and suites, and terraces with views of the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. The interiors, designed by Thierry Despont, are reminiscent of a 1930s luxury liner. After New York, in 2022Casa Cipriani will arrive in Milan . The project, on via Palestro, includes a Cipriani restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Indro Montanelli gardens, the Socialista Lounge, Bar Arrigo, 15 rooms and suites, wellness and fitness center.
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