Harry’s Bar in Venice was founded by Giuseppe Cipriani in May 1931. His son Arrigo took over in
1957 the family business. Today, Arrigo can still be found every day amid the tables, greeting patrons, organising the work, expressing a point of view on Italian hospitality influential worldwide. To the point where, after opening in New York, Miami, London, Monte Carlo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Hong Kong, now it’s Milan’ turn. In this way the Gruppo Cipriani is continuing its expansion, with a new concept that will revolutionise Palazzo Bernasconi at Via Palestro 24, which bids fair to become a favoured stamping ground and watering hole for lovers of high-end hospitality. Or rather the Italian way of life, which, in addition to two restaurants, will offer a boutique hotel, a bar club, a wellness centre and another for fitness. “Understanding how this work goes is like making a Martini.” Arrigo Cipriani gazes at us from afar, greets us and then comes over with innate elegance. “All you need are gin, dry vermouth, ice and a glass. Too bad, then, that to serve the cocktail to someone these ingredients fail to suffice. It’s a bit like building a house. It takes more than only the finest materials and a great design. You can’t just hire the best architect. It takes that little extra.” The question, for Arrigo Cipriani, is people, or rather it’s us.
“Recipes for food and drink are precise. Follow them closely and the outcome could verge on perfection. But the other ingredient is far more important, it has to do with the spirit. The impalpable essence of everything. You realise how essential you are. How important it is to communicate your soul with your service.” To Arrigo Cipriani, this isn’t just the secret of an unrepeatable success, his own, but also what makes Italians completely different from everyone else, at least when it comes to hospitality.
The logic is simple. Service is hospitality, hospitality is style, style is culture, culture is knowledge, knowledge is diversity, diversity is simplicity and authenticity, authenticity is lack of constraint, lack of constraint is freedom, freedom is tourism. Simple, isn’t it?
Simple or not, this explains the reason for the collapse of quality in a country like Italy, which has lost its code of hospitality. “It’s inevitable that people’s work has become repetitive, what with developments in manufacturing industry, to the point where it can be replaced almost completely by intelligent machines. But tourism isn’t manufacturing industry, just as architecture is not exclusively technical knowledge, it’s polytechnical. Tourism is a service industry. There’s no machine in the world that can replace human service, just as there’s no machine in the world that can replace an architect or designer.” In his theory, which is a practice of dedication, there is spirit and there are things. “Some time ago I read an interesting provocation, endorsed by some architects. The author was Flavio Albanese, who renamed the Reloading Veniceproject. He says. ‘Let’s get rid of the Ponte della Libertà.’ This isn’t really a fanciful idea. In the past, they copied what I heard from a friend. I wrote and said that Venice used to be the gateway to the East before they built the bridge, but afterwards it wasn’t any more. We should build a barrier before the Ponte della Libertà. Residents, people who work in Venice, have a reservation at a hotel or study at the universities could pass through with a special magnetic card. Everyone else should arrive in Venice by boat.” For this reason, in Arrigo’s vision, we cannot imagine a world of objects alone, of motionless appliances, a restaurant of empty tables and chairs. “It would be like a deserted theatre, an empty piazza in summer. The only thing to do is seek help from people, to invoke people to bring things to life. Because serving above all means loving.” Arrigo Cipriani, who has written 12 books, views the subject of service as the same for design and architecture: it’s us. We need to welcome others the way we’d like to be welcomed. We always need to be ourselves. That’s the only way to become the protagonists of our own lives.
“Einstein once said, ‘Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.ʼ Come and visit me again.”
Arrigo Cipriani (1932) is the owner of the legendary Harry’s Bar in Venice, established by his father Giuseppe in 1931 and recognised as a national site by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in 2001. Today it is part of a group that includes 25 restaurants and bars located around the world. Recent books of his include Prigioniero di una stanza a Venezia and Non vorrei far male a nessuno (both Feltrinelli).