Gillian Knows Best Guide to Venice in 10 Spritzes
No Aperol required (but potato chips are mandatory)
On a bitterly cold January morning many years ago over our morning cappuccino, Noah and I declared that we were going to attempt to have 10 spritzes in one day. Venice has a similar elastic and disorienting sense of time and place as another beloved place of mine. Like a late morning Sazerac at the Carousel Bar in New Orleans, in Venice it can be perfectly acceptable to have a shot of grappa with your morning coffee or a 10:00 am prosecco with a gaggle of gondoliers. We didn’t hit our goal that day but we sure had fun trying.
Not sure exactly what a spritz is? The history is fuzzy but the cocktail's origins are Austro-Hungarian and date back to when the Empire invaded and occupied the Veneto region. A spritz is a low-alcohol mix of equal parts bitter liquor, prosecco, and sparkling water. The Venetians sometimes leave out the splash of sparkling water or swap out the prosecco for white wine. They almost always include a speared olive.
You have four main commercial choices for the bitter liquor part; Select, Campari, Cynar, and Aperol. If you are a spritz expert, look for the locally produced Amaro Nostrano or try specialty spritzes like the saffron spritz at the Orient Experience in the Ghetto or the house spritz made with natural prosecco and lagoon bitters before dinner at Al Vecio Portal. I became a big fan of the spritz bianco this summer. It is the perfect low-alcohol drink that leaves out the bitter and is made with prosecco, sparkling water, and a slice of lemon.
Select is Venetian1 so that is often the one I ask for. It has an intense red color and notes of juniper berries and rhubarb. If you like Campari, try Select. Cynar is made with artichokes and has a less vibrant color and a bitter, earthy bite. Aperol is the sweetest and the most well-known with an orangy vanilla flavor. I am not a fan of this arguably photogenic choice. I agree with my pal Hank and think that it tastes a little like that fluoride rinse at the dentist.
You drink a spritz before, not with a meal. You will almost always get a bowl of potato chips and maybe some peanuts with your spritz, but you should also follow the Venetians and try some cichetti, plates of small snacks that are eaten before lunch or dinner.
Another important thing to know about Venice is you walk. A lot. More than think you will even if you regularly hit your 10,000 steps a day. Most bacaro, the traditional bars that serve wine, spritz, and cichetti are standing room only. Almost all of my picks have a place to sit down. To help you plan your stops every few thousand steps or so I created this guide to some of my favorite places to have a spritz in Venice. Perfect for just about any time of day.
One last piece of advice; Don’t go to one of those kiosks and get a spritz to go in a plastic cup. Pretty please.