01 July, 2006

37. Il Cantine del Vino

I've been to up-market wine bars in the West End of London, hot jazz and cool blues wine bars in Chicago, arty wine bars on the rive gauche of Paris, wine bars that have spent a fortune on creating just the right ambience, wine bars where the selection of wines on offer is astounding, but of all of them, this is my favourite – and you can't even sit down.

Almost opposite the 'Boatyard Where Nothing Happens' on Rio Trovaso is this liquor store and wine bar. It's very small, with one shop-sized room at the front and another smaller room out the back stacked with boxes and bins. Half of the front room – the window display and most of the walls – is the liquor store. The other half is a wide wooden topped bar with half a dozen or so open bottles of wine on a shelf behind and a glass-fronted display cabinet with interesting little nibbles in it, like crostini with herbs and garlic, or crunchy fried baby octopus.

A good thing about this place is that even if you only go there once it makes you feel like a regular, like you've been going there most of your life. Go there twice and you'll start imagining that you were born just around the corner. People recognize you and say hello, they talk to you, they stand outside with a glass of wine and a cigarette talking to passers by, and they lean on the bar tasting the food and the wine while they try to decide which of the hundreds of different bottles to take home.

If you are walking your dog in the early evening to get a little exercise you can stop in for a glass of vino and a chat, because nobody minds that they have to step over your mutt to get to the bar. And when you finally decide on the twelve euro bottle of Valpolicella, they wrap it carefully in tissue paper before putting it in a carry bag, just the same as they would if it was a three hundred euro bottle of Valpolicella.

Here are two more reasons why this bar is better than any wine bar in those other cities. One, it's in Venice. Two, no matter how long you stay, or how much you drink, there's no danger of being caught drink-driving on your way home.

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