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Come For The Canals—and the Cocktails: The Coolest Spots to Drink in Venice

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For centuries, Venice, Italy has been known as La Serenissima—”the most serene.” It remains an apt moniker for the millions of tourists who float through this mystical metropolis annually. For fans of drink culture, however, the setting is as boisterous and bona fide as it gets. Here’s the birthplace of the Bellini and the Spritz, for crying out loud! With a handful of notable additions to the liquid landscape, Venice remains as effervescent as ever.

“It’s undeniably an exciting time to be involved in drinks here,” confirms Vadim Grigoryan. The co-founder of X Muse Vodka organized a pop-up for his brand earlier this year at the biannual art festival, La Biennale di Venezia. “My love for art brings me here, but it’s my love for drinks that makes me never want to leave.”

Four Select spritzes on an outside table next to the bottle in Venice.
Courtesy Image

Whatever lures you, you cannot come to Venice without first exploring its bacari scene. These cozy bars—often tucked away in narrow alleyways—serve local wines and a variety of cicchetti: bitesized snacks that eat like tapas with an Italian accent. One of the oldest in town, Cantina Do Mori, dates back to 1462.

Nowadays, some of them have gone gourmand. It’s not uncommon to encounter a bacaro such as La Barrique, where natural wines and cured goat meat supplant the more traditional jug juice and meatballs. Vino Vero ups the ante further still, offering a bevy of biodynamic selections by the glass, pairing it all with game-based charcuterie alongside the Rio della Misericordia.

“If you are a wine lover, this is as natural and as local as you can go in Venice,” adds Grigoryan.

But no matter how upscale they skew, a bacaro is obligated to come correct with its spritz game. The Venetian variant has been a delicacy here since the early 1900s. It’s built with a local aperitif known as Select—darker and slightly more bitter than its better-known rival, Aperol. It results in a drink that’s a touch more serious to boot—proudly garnished not with orange but with olive.

Peopled Venice cafe next to a canal.
Yulia Girgoryeva / Shutterstock

In June, Select swings open the doors on a new distillery and visitors center within the heart of the city. It follows an expansion in modern mixology tracing its roots to the debut of Il Mercante in the summer of 2016. The now-revered cocktail bar in the San Polo neighborhood specializes in elaborate preparations, often focusing on ingredients and flavors from far-flung corners of the globe. Each drink comes with a story, one that is literally printed on a menu that reads like a playbill.

Il Mercante set the bar, so to speak, encouraging a new wave of competitors to conceptualize their cocktail programs; to consider themes and to position ingredients front and center. Skyline wasted little time carrying this model to new heights. It helps, of course, that the alfresco outpost—seated above the five-star Hilton Molino Stucky—is the highest rooftop bar in the city. Drinks here are intended to accentuate the surrounding panorama. The Red Sky, for example, uses Campari and mandarin liqueur to mimic the gradients of the setting sun in liquid form. Stardust echoes the deep blues of the city at night. And the garnish game across all 21 signature cocktails is typified by terroir. This isn’t by chance.

Exterior image of Hilton Molino Stucky hotel

The Hilton Molino Stucky is home to Skyline, Venice’s loftiest rooftop bar.
Elzloy / Shutterstock

“Local botanicals are super fresh thanks to the vibrancy of the Venice Lagoon,” notes Rudi Carraro, a native Venetian and global brand ambassador for Gruppo Montenegro—the parent company of Select Aperitivo. “Plus, because there are no vehicles here, you have less sensory distractions coming between you and your drink. Amplify that with the magical views everywhere and it’s no wonder that ‘aperitivo time’ was born here.”

Sure, you might feel like a royal as you sip your way through the Grand Canal, but at the Aman Venice you can literally drink like one. The stunning property occupies a 16th Century palazzo owned by Count Giberto Arrivabene. He is one of the last aristocrats still residing in the city and remains a regular in the stately Red Room—his former personal drinking parlor—now repurposed for the public as the hotel bar.

Grand lobby area at the Aman Venice

Aman Venice, housed in a regal palazzo on the Grand Canal.
EQRoy / Shutterstock

The cocktail menu here is drawn up by head mixologist Antonio Ferrara, who is fond of crafting specialties befitting your mood on any given day. Hopefully you’re feeling classical, because this is without question the best martini you’re going to receive in all of Venice. Order the off-menu Count’s Martini and you’ll be treated to a more session-able variation, heavier on vermouth and served in stemless copita with expressed lemon zest. Grigoryan suggests reserving room for at least one Venetian Spritz while seated here. “It is the ultimate expression of the local speciality,” he contends.

If you’re craving a less assuming affair, however, head to Vinile in Cannaregio. The cozy, musically-themed dive is inspired by improvisation. Specialties shift with the season but are almost always botanically driven, leveraging the bar’s hydroponic garden to compose invigorating froths and foams. They arrive atop colorful cocktails with an Italo-tiki swing. The vibe exists on an entirely opposite end of the spectrum as The Bar at Aman, and yet the drinks here are no less polished for the journey.

In fact, in order to fully appreciate the idiosyncrasies of this drink scene, you owe it to yourself to span the spectrum from bacaro to palace—and everything in between. “There is only one Venice,” Carraro reminds us. “And it’s sinking.” So you might want to pursue serenity now—while you still can.

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