The Carnival of Venice is known for the elaborate costumes and the even more lavish masquerade balls. Those balls can cost hundreds of dollars per person to attend, and honestly just weren’t ever any interest to us. We much preferred to enjoy the free Carnevale events during the day and to wrap up one of our nights with a masquerade pub crawl. What better way to meet fellow world traveling masqueraders than to don a costume and go on a Venice Carnival pub crawl to some of the best bacari of Venice?
Despite Venice’s freezing temperatures, Tim and I braved the cold in costume and headed to Ca’ Rezzonico to meet our guide for the pub crawl over several of the seven years that we lived in a small town nearby. Our guides were always waiting, holding a lit up sign saying “I’m doing it Venetian Style”.
Venetians call this pub crawl the giro d’ombra. Giro means stroll, and ombra — slang for a glass of wine — means shade. The tradition of giro d’ombra dates back to the old days, when a portable wine bar scooted with the shadow of the Campanile bell tower across St. Mark’s Square. Once our costumed group all gathered, we were off to wander the labyrinth of small alleyways and campi (squares) of Venice.
Our first stop was Osteria Alla Bifora in Campo Santa Margherita. Here we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco in the former butcher shop-turned-bar, with chandeliers and exposed-brick walls dating from the 12th century. We were a large group and filled every single communal table. Picking a table at the very front, we got to know our new friends Phantom and Christine (aka Anders and Polina from Norway). Making friends that we’ve kept in touch with all these years later was one of the best parts of the Venice Carnival pub crawl, and embodied the true spirit of giro d’ombra which encouraged Venetians to socialize.
Bracing for the cold, onward we went to Cantina Do Mori in San Polo. Do Mori looks like it’s been around for a long time, and it has. It’s a Venetian institution.
The narrow and dim interior is decorated with pots and pans hanging down from the ceiling, wooden tables with stools, and ciccheti displayed on glass shelves. Our white wine, a Bianco Friulano, was served straight from wooden barrels. Reputed to be the oldest osteria in Venice, it’s the one-of-a-kind-atmosphere that keeps the locals coming back regularly to this San Polo bar.
We continued on to the next bacari, Osteria Alla Ciurma, also in San Polo. The interior decor is reminiscent of a boat, from which the name originates. It is run by two chefs, father Andrew and son Francis. They offer a wide choice of Venetian cicchetti using quality ingredients, bought daily in the adjacent market. Try the Merlot Friulano here and the cicchetti prices are some of the best value in Venice.
Our final stop on the pub crawl was Enotecca Al Volto near the Rialto. The ancient wood walls of this nearly century old bar are decorated with more the 1300 bottle labels from all over the world. Sample a Venetian Spritz, a mixture of Prosecco and sparkling water with the apertif Aperol.
If you’re adventurous, you can certainly do a giro d’ombra on your own any time of the year. Don’t worry about getting lost. Just keep reminding yourself that you’re on an island, and a fairly small one at that. When you want to find your way, simply look for small signs on the corners directing you to the nearest landmark (for example, “per Rialto”). Bars don’t stay open very late. And the cicchetti selection is best early when they open, so start your evening by 6pm. Most bars are closed on Sundays.
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