After a busy day exploring the streets and sights of Venice, one of the best (and most Venetian) ways of winding down is an early evening giro d’ombra around the Rialto – essentially a tour of the area’s back-street wine bars, known as bacari. While the word bàcaro derives from the name of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, the term ombra has its own uniquely Venetian roots; elsewhere in Italy, the word simply means “shade”, or “shadow”, but its slang use in Venice dates back to the days when Venetian wine merchants would set up their stalls in the shadow of the Saint Mark’s bell tower, moving their wine throughout the day to stay out of the sun. In this context, the expression prendere un’ombra or “take some shade” came to mean “grab a glass of wine”; here are a few of our favourite places around the Rialto to do just that.
Cantina Do Mori, Calle Do Mori
Dating back to 1462, this ancient establishment is said to be Venice’s oldest bàcaro; with dark wood-panelled walls and a low ceiling hung with copper pots, it’s an atmospheric spot to enjoy an excellent choice of wines – with house options served from large casks behind the counter. The speciality is francobollo (literally “postage stamp”), a tiny white-break sandwich filled with cold meats or roasted vegetables from the lagoon island of Sant’Erasmo. Alternatively, try the traditional salt cod baccalà, either vicentino (cooked in milk with anchovy, parsley and cheese) or mantecato (whipped with potato and olive oil).
All’Arco, Calle Arco
Just around the corner from Do’ Mori, this bustling little bàcaro run by father-and-son team Francesco and Matteo is regarded by many Venetians as the best place for cicheti (bar snacks) in town. Using the freshest ingredients from the nearby Rialto Market, All’Arco serves up miniature masterpieces such as courgette flower wraps filled with ricotta and speck, or mantis shrimp stuffed with pumpkin and roe. Their unbottled wines are excellent, as is the free-flowing prosecco. Be sure to get there around lunch-time, as it’s not open in the evening.
Cantina Do Spade, Calle Do Spade
Famously mentioned in Casanova’s memoirs as a spot where he enjoyed entertaining his romantic conquests, Do Spade (“Two Spades” – named after a local duel) continues to attract young Venetians with its superb selection of Veneto wines and tasty cichetti. Arrive early for steaming hot, market-fresh fritture (batter-fried seafood), meatballs or mozzarella in carrozza (deep fried cheese), or linger longer over their signature sarde in saor (sardines marinaded in onions and vinegar), stuffed squid or grilled cuttlefish.