Bacari, best Wine Bars in Venice
Walking around Venice and watching all those people crowding up tourist spots, it’s almost natural to wonder where do locals go when they eat out or to have their so-called “Ombra de vin.” Indeed, they surely avoid those Baroque, a bit demanding and way too expensive places in central Venice, those recommended in the most popular tourist guides. Venetian, in fact, rather like those small bars where you’re often just standing, with a single entrance light and developed in depth, smelling of wine and no-frills: these are their favorite venues, and they are called Bacari!
The etymology of this term has been widely debated, but we are more interested in knowing their addresses rather than their history. It may be also useful to know what we can eat to accompany the shades (it. ombre) of red or white wine they serve us. Often there are no written menus because they’re not restaurants, they are more like prehistoric happy hour spots, there since the 18th century and often described in great detail by the same Goldoni.
They are generally served with delicious plates of traditional lagoon foods, including bread croutons or polenta with salt cod, marinated anchovies, fried fish and grilled cuttlefish, sardines in saor, but even trivial boiled eggs or fried meatballs and sandwiches made on request stuffed with cold cuts or cheese. You’ll pay all this at a normal price, with no need to be a Hollywood actor or billionaire footballer. To begin with, we have selected a dozen Bacari to help you not to miss one of the most popular traditions among Venetians!
Osteria Al Garanghelo
Via Garibaldi 1621; Castello; phone n. +39 041 5294967
Mid-way between a bacaro and a trattoria, as many venues of this kind in Venice, also Garanghelo serves Cicchetti appetizers or a la carte menus, more challenging but still cheap compared to the prices of other restaurants in the city. Here you will always find fresh fish at reasonable prices: 3 Cicchetti and a glass of Prosecco, about 10 €. Despite the recent change of management, nothing has changed except for the better in the service and in the kitchen alike, and prices, perhaps for the global crisis, are now even cheaper than the past. Most of the customers are locals and the menu is typically Venetian: vegetable soups, spaghetti with clams, pasta with seafood, cod cooked in all possible ways, with and without croutons. When the weather is nice you can sit outdoors in the little campiello outside, food and wine are always great and good value for money, but always remember that you’re at a bacaro and not at a gourmet restaurant.
Calle Arco; San Polo 436; phone n. +39 041 5205666
Situated a few steps from the Rialto fish market, this is one of the most coveted spots by DOC Venetians. Here you’ll always find delicious Cicchetti displayed on the counter: sardines in sauce, cheese, smoked ham, shrimps, prawns and slices of crusty bread, croutons with creamed cod and anchovies with butter or, upon request, also sautéed vegetables, mixed salad, and sausages. All washed down with a fresh and delicious Prosecco, topped off with a patient and friendly service and low prices, which is not so unimportant in a city like Venice. The only drawback, but quite common in these places, there’s no place to sit so you can just stand at the counter, but the place is always crowded, so it means that it is worth it. Beware that it often closes shortly after the 5pm at the end of the market.
Osteria Al Portego
Castello; San Lio 6014; phone n. 041 5229038
Another bacaro near Rialto bridge, much appreciated by Venetians and frequented particularly by young people who pack it inside and especially in the small campiello outside for an evening strictly standing aperitif. The choice of Cicchetti is really a greedy game because they are all displayed in a glass showcase: it features classic bread croutons with creamed cod, octopus, sardines in sauce but also artichokes, fried food and polenta. Cheap and good drinks are the house red wine and Prosecco. A few tables with seats are provided at the restaurant which serves traditional and tasty dishes as Tagliatelle with black cabbage and prawns, fried seafood or spaghetti with squid ink and seafood. You should also taste even the polenta with squid or shrimps. They do not accept payments by credit/debit cards but only cash!
Antica Osteria Alla Vedova – Trattoria Cà d’Oro
Calle del Pistor; Cannaregio 3912; phone n. +39 041 5285324
Perhaps the most popular bacaro in Venice, the one with two names: a new one (Cà d’Oro) and the historic “Alla Vedova” one, which Venetians continue undeterred to use to call their favorite. There are cauldrons and strange tools hanging from the ceiling and mirrors on the walls, the atmosphere is imbued with the smell of wine, like any self-respecting bacaro, where oceans of house wine are poured into pitchers from the barrels and then in small glasses lined up on the traditional dark wood counter, each at a price of € 0.50. At the same counter, with only € 1 you can taste the most delicious fried balls of the lagoon, and many types of cicchetti including croutons with cheese and cold cuts. The trattoria also serves excellent traditional dishes such as spaghetti with clams, fish soup, and fried fish, but it is important to book in advance as there are a few seats and many requests.
Cantinone Già Schiavi
Ponte San Trovaso; Dorsoduro 992; phone n. +39 041 523 0034
The best of Venice’s Bacari and cicchetti is probably found right here in the Dorsoduro district of the city, between the Guggenheim and Punta della Dogana, where the Castaldi family has been serving oysters and raw fish on the counter for two generations, matched with some 30 wines always available by the glass, as well as sandwiches with “sopressa” or “porchetta” cut by the knife. Ms. Sandra prepares Cicchetti without intermission, her specialties include creamed cod fish, meatballs, squid or sardines in sauce, toasted bread with fish, cheese, mushrooms, cold cuts and herring at a cost of € 1.20 ach and served with a Spritz in a shot glass. You can buy all the wines to prolong the pleasure at home, but the White Fragolino is truly delightful and difficult to find elsewhere.
Osteria al Ponte
Cannaregio 6378; phone n. +39 041 5286157
It is situated on the Cavallo bridge, coming from Santa Maria dei Miracoli before SS. Zanipolo in front of the church of SS. John and Paul. The venue marks the geographical border between the districts of Cannaregio and Castello. Since 1890, this small Osteria prepares Cicchetti and serves fresh and sparkling wine to the many Venetians who know that they exist. It is advisable to book in advance because it is really tiny, and also because if they are waiting for you they will prepare a series of special cicchetti with fish and moeche (lagoon crabs.) If you are still hungry after, then you can ask for a first course too, different every time, but always very good and tasty as pasta with tuna and tomato or with prawns and chicory. All this is seasoned with the staff’s congeniality and prices among the lowest in Venice, along with a cheerful atmosphere and top quality wine: too good to be true? It is true indeed, and it’s also mentioned by the popular Slow Food “Osterie d’Italia” travel guide.
Osteria la Bottega Ai Promessi Sposi
Calle dell’Oca; Cannaregio 4367; phone n. +39 041 2412747
This is a classic bacaro situated in Cannaregio at the end of an alley not far from the train station. Small, always crowded with Venetians who enjoy wine and Cicchetti strictly standing. A few tables are available, but they are always taken, so it is better to book in advance if you need one. And when you get there, don’t look at the time, because this is a place where you don’t rush the customer already sitting; in the event, you just wait at the counter with Cicchetti and Prosecco wine. The selection of Cicchetti prepared by the innkeeper Mauro Lorenzon includes meatballs in all ways, octopus with potatoes and mussels au gratin in addition to traditional croutons and cod. The food served at the restaurant is simple and genuine and includes Tagliatelle pasta with lamb ragout, grilled fish, and tiramisu prepared fresh in front of the customers.
Cannaregio 652/b; Fondamenta di San Giobbe; phone n. +39 041 72 02 11
A legendary Bacaro restaurant near the Ca’ Foscari University situated in Fondamenta S. Giobbe at the end of the Tre Archi Bridge. In the warm season, tables are set up along the canal and the venue is attended by many students and workers on break. It serves lunch at a fixed price of 15/30 Euros, with a choice from three starters, three main courses and two side dishes. In summer, the seats available between the inside and the outside are about thirty in total, they are always full and the aperitivo is served in strictly standing space only. The dishes proposed are the great classics: creamed cod, sea bass marinated in tomato sauce, red octopus, mussels au gratin, soft polenta, lasagna with mussels, squid with tomato sauce, fried squid and prawns with sfogetti (Venetian soles), and desserts like mascarpone cream with baicoli (biscuits.) In winter, the seats are reduced to twenty, but the curious thing is that every day the first customer that makes a reservation decides whether the menu will be based on meat or fish.
Cantina Do’ Mori
Sestiere San Polo 429; Calle dei Do Mori; phone n. +39 041 5225401
A few steps away from Rialto, once attended even by Casanova in person, this bacaro is perhaps the oldest in Venice. Happy hour here lasts very long and it’s a difficult challenge to conquer a cicchetto with cold cuts, cheese, or raw fish and meat. Don’t miss out the traditional “Francobollo” a little sandwich stuffed with cold cuts, chicory and gorgonzola cheese. You should also taste the delicious artichokes with salt and the eggplant parmigiana, the sandwiches with musetto (pork nose) and cheese, the meatballs and the classic croutons with fil’on de Toro. Drink Prosecco and Pinot. The atmosphere is beautifully Venetian, with copper pots hanging from the ceiling and orders taken only in dialect.
Osteria Al Mercà
Via Dandolo 17/a; Lido di Venezia; phone n. +39 041 2431663
Situated right in the Lido of Venice, a few steps from the vaporetto stop, from the Excelsior and De Bains, this tiny bacaro is perhaps the most frequented by youngsters and Venetians. This place is very popular in the afternoon and evening, with people mainly standing or sitting on the benches and stone walls in the square of the fish market outside. Excellent wines are served by the glass including special labels, too. Cicchetti are plentiful and tasty and include the classic crostini with cod or tuna, meat or fish meatballs, as well as fried zucchini flowers. The aperitif is offered at a very affordable price for the area: 4 glasses of wine and 4 sandwiches for 15 Euros. The restaurant has a few tables and booking is warmly recommended. The kitchen prepares classy dishes, the fish is always fresh and comes from the market stalls in front of the entrance. Some of the best dishes include: Bigoli, risotto with sea bass and spaghetti with cuttlefish ink, polenta and shrimps or Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and prawns; among the main courses: mixed grill with cuttlefish, fresh and abundant fried fish, prawns and onions, grilled cuttlefish or creamy cod fish. To round off your lunch, do not miss the lemon sorbet or licorice grappa. The prices of the à la carte menù are not very low, but there is also an excellent fixed price menu, which has a very low cost.
Campo San Giacometto; San Polo 122; phone n. +39 041 5232061
This is a bacaro where you can finally sit down and enjoy your aperitif, and during the summer there are plenty of outdoor seating spaces on the Grand Canal, perfect for a chat with friends. The Cicchetti are original and very good, they include polenta croutons stuffed with eggplant, octopus or lard, baked cod, and horseradish ricotta cheese. The place also serves great sandwiches stuffed with cured meats. Wine is perhaps not of the best, but among the specialties of the house there is a good pinot noir. For an aperitif, the price-quality ratio is among the best in the area: two drinks and four Cicchetti for 15 Euros. Popular with young people and locals, the upstairs restaurant serves local cuisine revisited by a personal twist. The menu includes dishes like: green gnocchi with scallops and chicory, Bigoli with decomposed carbonara of smoked salmon and egg foam, sea bass with dusting of almonds, sword fish tartar, sliced tuna and barley with prawns.
Calle San Felice, Strada nuova; Cannaregio 3689; phone n. +39 0415228258
You will find La Cantina near a small canal along the Strada Nuova leading to St. Mark’s Square. This is the perfect place for a snack between lunch and dinner, which is the authentic purpose of a Venetian Bacaro actually. It is quite busy at any time of the day, given the strategic location a few steps from the most famous square in Venice, but it is not uncommon to find seats. Francesco, the host, is a bit rough but very efficient, and knows how to advise about the wide choice of wines, sandwiches and Cicchetti that he will personally prepare before your eyes maneuvering his slicer with great skill. Some of the best cicchetti here are prepared with fish, cheese, and musetto (pork nose), served with vegetables and tomato bruschetta, veal tongue and horseradish, salt beef and fresh ricotta. If you happen to stop for lunch or dinner, try the delicious pumpkin soup with Trevisano chicory, the vegetable soup, the homemade Cappelletti in fowl broth, the grilled fresh fish, the fried or stewed salt cod, or the tasty boiled beef with vegetables.