In November of 2007 in Harry's Bar, that venerable Venice institution, my friend and I had two small martinis each, and I bought a copy of this book which the wait staff gently push. The bill for the two drinks and the book was $132.00, so we know that Harry's is pricey. Giuseppe Cipriani founded the bar in 1931 with the financial aid of a wealthy American named Harry Pickering who provided the bar with its name. Pickering was a silent partner and within a few years Cipriani bought him out. This book is told by Giuseppe's son, Arrigo. The father apprenticed in every aspect of the hospitality industry and loved it.
Giuseppe picked out the small fifteen foot by thirty foot space which had been a cordage warehouse at the end of a dead end street on the lagoon right near St. Mark's Square. He espoused three things in his business: quality, a smile, and simplicity.
This is, of course, a puff piece, a self-serving promotion for the bar and its numerous other restaurants and enterprises. A touching scene is a description of the father's funeral with seven splendid gondolas and the sixteen magnificent gondoliers. The city's vaporini slowed to watch the procession pass.
Harry's was and is host to the famous of the world. Ernest Hemingway helped make the bar famous as did Orson Welles, Truman Capote, the Aga Khan, Barbara Hutton, and innumerable other celebs. It's a gossipy, kiss and tell-all book. One wishes at times that Arrigo would be more discreet in his stories. It should have been his dictum that what happened in Harry's stayed in Harry's.
The last half of the book is really well-padded and falls apart as the boastful Arrigo tells about establishing his New York empire. There is a chapter in which workmen natter on about nothing and a long-winded chapter containing what Arrigo thinks is the hilarious correspondence between himself and a customer.
The pureed peach and champagne cocktail called the Bellini was invented there, and is still the signature drink of the place. Carpaccio was popularized there.
Arrigo has a sharp tongue and is not afraid to be nasty and sarcastic about certain customers. It's a gotcha piece as well as a puff piece. Having been there several times, I can say that the Venice establishment does have a wonderful ambience, and the help are friendly. Oh, but those exorbitant prices are probably those most memorable feature of the place. But if you can't afford to play, don't suit for the game. May Harry's live forever. Cheers!