Venice has much to be admired for, including St. Marks Basilica, Byzantine art, the rambling Museo Correr, the famed Rialto Bridge crowded with shops, and winding waterways.
However, the one thing I look forward to the most, without exception, is doing the Cicchetti pub crawl.
Also known as the Venetian Crawl, it’s intended for the locals who stop by after work to munch on “toothpick uglies” downed with glasses of wine. These uglies range anywhere from crostini with toppings, deep-fried mozzarella cheese, gorgonzola, calamari, artichoke hearts, sliced hard-boiled eggs, marinated seafood, olives and prosciutto with melon. Plates of these tidbits usually line the top of the bar. The ‘bacarri,’ or local pubs, open at 6 pm and generally close early.
Cicchetti pubs are found on the back alleys. They are generally small and unpretentious. A popular one will have a spilling out of people holding small plates of bites and a drink. There are no cars in Venice, so no need to concern yourself with driving home safely. Just make sure you can swim!
Ombra, small glasses of wine, are typically offered. However, a whole slew of drinks are available upon request. These include prosecco (local sparkling wine), and spritz (white wine with added bitters and seltzer water). Non-alcoholic drinks include arancietta (small glasses of carbonated orange soda), cochetta (small glasses of Coca-Cola or Pepsi), san bitter (slightly carbonated aperitif, similar to spritz without the alcohol), and gingerino (ginger-based aperitif) with no alcohol. It can be served with a small amount of sparkling or still water, or white wine. Mineral water is also offered as either sparkling of still.
I found that the further away from the main tourist attractions I ventured, the better and more original the cicchetti pubs became. It is getting harder to find an authentic pub anymore. One that is not too far from the Rialto bridge and down a little winding alley is called Do Mori (San Polo 429 Calle dei Do Mori) which claims to be the oldest bacaro in Venice, dating back to 1462. With a dark wooden interior and copper pots hanging everywhere, it’s a no miss. This pub is famous for its francobollo, postage-stamp tiny white bread sandwiches filled with sliced meats, roasted vegetables, raddichio or gorgonzola.
I love the social atmosphere, the hubbub of people ending their workdays and relaxing into their evening repasts. The only non-touristy eateries in Venice, they offer insight into the life of the average working class resident. And this, I believe, is what makes the heart and soul of Venice come alive.