Oh, it's that time of year to stay warm and eat and drink! But wait, we're in Italy, it's always time to eat and drink. And in Venice, people are notorious for their drinking. So big is the need of Venetians to consume alcohol, that they have come up with special sizes because maybe you can't have a full glass of wine at 8 am before work, but you can have a couple of sips. And while you're drinking, you're going to want to nibble on something. Let's go through these adult beverage sizes and morsels and the best places to find them so you can merrily navigate the Canal city with joy.
First off, you must know what a cicchetto or cicchettino is. These are usually bite size or slightly larger pieces of food that can range anywhere from fried calamari to meatballs to bread with various toppings and beyond. They will cost anywhere between €1 and €4 (we're talking about the good ones, go ahead and pass on 50¢ ones). Most places will have all their signature cicchettos prepared around aperitivo (happy hour) time, but you can always find something at other hours of the day.
Now let's talk about drinks. A typical aperitivo drink is the Spritz, but in Venice, many don't drink it with Aperol or Campari, they drink it with Select, which is a middle ground between the previous two; not as sweet as Aperol and not as bitter as Campari. Spritzes will cost anywhere from €2.30 and €5. Needless to say, avoid the €5 ones when you can drink for cheaper.
Get to know your sizes. For wine, you have:
Ombra. A small glass of wine. A couple of sips. Quantities may vary but usually around 5 cl (0.1 pints).
Bicchiere. A glass of wine. Around 10 cl (0.2 pints).
Un quarto di vino. A quarter of a litre of wine. A little bit more than a glass (0,5 pints).
Mezzo litro. Half a litre (1 pint).
For beer you can order the following:
Birrino. Smaller than a small beer. Quantities may vary, but around 10 cl. A couple of gulps.
Birra piccola. Small beer. 20 cl. (half pint).
Birra media. Medium beer. 40-50 cl. (1 pint or slightly less).
Got that? Ok, now where should you order all of the above? Let's go through my favourite places for cicchetti and drinks.
Cantina Do Spade
Literally, this means Two Swords Cantina. It's near Rialto bridge, so you're more than likely to meander close to it sooner or later. The cicchetti menu includes but is not limited to polpette (meatballs), sarde in saor (fish covered in onions, pine nuts and raisins, a typical dish), calamari fritti (fried calamari), mozzarelle in carrozza (breaded and fried mozzarella), baccalà mantecato (salted codfish). Just go up to the counter, see what's behind the glass and point to things. The Cantina is also open for delicious dinner.
The people you find here are generally a university to middle-aged crowd, mostly local with the occasional foreign exchange students. There's not a lot of room to sit inside if you come at meal time, but the alley outside fills up and that's where you hang out. It was a bit difficult to take pictures here, as a couple of people told me they didn't want to be in any photos. Venetians are not known for being outgoing or courteous. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this place for food and drink.
Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova
Golden house of the widow. If you want to have just one polpetta (meatball) in Venice, you must eat it here. This is not a happy hour hang out place, it's a restaurant, but if you just want to stand at the bar for a glass of good wine and some (or many) of their famous meatballs you can do just that. When I asked what was in the meatballs I got a vague “meat, parsley”. They won't disclose their recipe, but there's definitely garlic, and the breading is crispy while the inside is soft. One is surely not enough, even if each meatball is a good size. I ate four. After dinner. Because I couldn't stop. If they have time, the staff will chit chat with you and give you recommendations on what to drink. They don't make spritzes.
A small but friendly spot in Venice. The staff is unusually nice and will take the time to make you fresh cicchetti according to your likes. They use delicious hams and cheeses and garnish the already tasty morsels with fine touches like saffron, pink pepper, edible flowers and various spices. There is a little spot for two in front of a large window where you can sit for hours looking at passerby, catching glances, and talking about life if you have a drinking companion (or even if you're by yourself, nobody will judge). The bar has its own little dock, where you can dangle your feet over the water, or enjoy the hospitality of a person's boat if they are docked.
Bacareto da Lele
A tiny spot conveniently located near the railway station. If you are super hungry as you step off the train, don't stop at any of the places you see directly in front of the train station. Walk five minutes, and enjoy simple but good sandwiches at Lele's. It's so small there's just enough room to order. The place is filled with workers during lunch hour and university students at all kinds of hours. Funny enough I saw the same guy here that didn't want his picture taken at Cantina Do Spade and the owners gargled something in Venetian dialect while pointing a finger as I raised my camera for a picture. So I took a picture from the other side of the plaza.
This place is open from Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm, Saturdays 6am to 2pm. Small sandwiches cost €1, larger ones from €1.80 to €2.20. Ombras range from 60¢ cents to €1. The sandwiches are made with various meats and cheeses, there is always at least one drunk customer, people yell out their orders from outside, the people behind the counter make fun of almost everyone in a friendly way, and it is one of those places you want to go back to for know extraordinary reason except that it is just what you need at any time.
This bar is nice for several reasons. It's off the beaten track, the prices are lower than the average in Venice, the staff is very friendly, it's on fondamenta (a Venice street that runs along the water, if there is no water it's a calle) where you can enjoy outside tables, and the food is good. It's a bit out of the ways, but a good place to go to if you are visiting the Jewish Ghetto. People come and go throughout the day, for breakfast, lunch, snacks or just coffee. The sandwiches are good and they have great taglieri, a plate of sliced meats and cheeses, a great way to have pre-lunch, lunch, or a filler between larger meals. Inside it looks like a ship and is just as enjoyable as the outside. In the evening ask for a special cocktail.
Osteria al Squero
Osteria al Squero is located across from one of the last two or three gondola makers in Venice. This place gets quite lively around happy hour with a mix of locals and tourists. The cicchetti are very particular; you can find a vast assortment of sliced bread with toppings such as tuna and cocoa powder, Tropea onions, gorgonzola, crab meat, strawberries and balsamic vinegar, lard, soppressa (a type of salami from Veneto), and other sought-after ingredients, all combined in surprising ways. They're so good and interesting that you might easily find yourself ordering one after the other until you realise that you've had three spritzes and you've basically dined. This bar is also on fondamenta, so you can sit outside along the water. There are no tables, but there's a little wall to sit on. It's near the Peggy Guggenheim museum, so you can stop there before or after. If you're with your lover and you get a bit tipsy at Osteria al Squero, walk down to Punta della Dogana for one of Venice's best make out spots (which is also where we typically end our night tours. For the great photogenic view, not to make out).
So if you're hungry or thirsty after a tour, why not head out to one of these spots for good times. I or our other Italian photographer Mirko will point you in the right direction no matter where we are.
Author : Anna Volpi
Anna is the photography expert that heads up the Aperture Tours in Venice and Verona. When she's not taking pictures she is usually enjoying dinners or having aperitivo with friends. Anna loves discovering new areas in Italy or going back to places with a crew of models and photographer friends to make magic happen.