Meeting Hemingway at Harry’s Bar

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A Little Literary Tourism in Venice

Will the ghost of Ernest Hemingway appear in Harry's Bar in Venice? Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Will the ghost of Ernest Hemingway appear in Harry’s Bar in Venice?
Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Scooting past a vaporetto stop in Venice on my way back to my hotel, which was at some point in history a palazzo, I stumble across a landmark of more recent, and literary, fame: Harry’s Bar.

How long have I thought about downing a drink in a place that Ernest Hemingway once frequented? I’ve been to Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Fla., of course, but Duval Street is not the same as it was when Hemingway was there. I did not feel any ghosts.

What am I expecting from Harry’s Bar in Venice? Servers in jackets who offer discretion, darkness, relief from the sensory overwhelm that any trip to Italy, especially one to Venice, can unintentionally provide. I imagine I will have a martini, cool off, regain a sense of calm.

Can the literary romance of Harry's Bar possibly live up to its reality? Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Can the literary romance of Harry’s Bar possibly live up to its reality?
Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Swinging in, I am transported to what looks to me like the 1940s, to a sparse but brightly lit room with few windows. Harry’s Bar is a quieter place than I thought it would be and not at all what I had anticipated. I suppose I had proferred too much magic to this place, thought something indescribable would be inside, imagined that just by breathing its air and sipping its potions I would have the cure.

The drinks are pricey, but I expect that; the room is filled with tourists, and I expect that, too. What I do not anticipate is that this place is more of a bare-celled escape from the overindulgence that is Venice. An old, old fan, of the sort that used to shoo away flies from the top of my great-grandmother’s refrigerator, rests unused near my table in the corner. This is a place where you might drink away your demons or your sorrows or go on a bender that begins far too early in the day. I could see Hemingway getting drunk here, although I don’t know if he ever did; I can see him drawn to the place’s sparseness.

It is not at all what I thought it would be. If I had never gone, would I still want to see? I would. I do.

—Lori Tripoli

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