Some reflections from Harry´s Bar in Venice

Grand Canale

I visited Venice in March 2011. The visit was while we in Bearing were working on the Place Management book, masterly authored by Christer Asplund and edited by Jacob Ikkala, and during the visit my thoughts were occupied with feedback on the important topics of the manuscript. I included some of the thoughts in this blog post in the introduction to the book, but I have felt since then that I did not follow through with my conclusions. I have felt there was something missing in the text. For this reason, I am writing this post now.

La FeniceDuring the visit we stayed in the recently renovated Hotel Dell´Opera, which is located in the shadow of the La Fenice Theater, the historical theater of the Venice Opera, less than a two-minute stroll from Piazza St Marco and maybe ten minutes from the Rialto bridge. The Hotel is a former grand family residence and enjoys a privileged location among the hotels in Venice, an ideal place to discover both the classical Venice and its quirky alter-ego hidden from the usual tourist itineraries. I can highly recommend it.

The Doge palaceThere is something special about visiting a place of such historic importance as Venice and with so many remarkable sights. In the medieval past, Venice was a centre of the known world. Today, Venetians make their living from tourism. Being the history buff I am, I reflected on why Venice has kept so many historic monuments from its glorious past. The reason is the cities swift decline. It was during the 15th century that Venice fortunes as a great power came out of favour. Wars and the black plaque took a heavy toll. Population declined and the trade based economy fell apart.

Thus the many marvelous buildings and monuments remains today due to the rapid decline and loss of economic incentives to rebuild and replace, just as the same story occurred to the once glorious city of Sienna in mainland Tuscany at about the same time. Then within a few years in the late 18th century, Venice rose again, to became the smarter, more upscale and infinitely more beautiful forerunner of Las Vegas. It has kept this brand image to the present day.

Napoleon in ItalyMost interestingly, it was due to the loss of independence when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice on 12 May 1797 that the city could enter a new golden age. The French conquest smashed the old isolationism and opened up the city to the European arena. During the 19th century Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture and literature.

It was to this city the young Italian Giuseppe Cipriani arrived in the 1920s. He was born in 1900 in Verona and had worked as a waiter at hotels around France, Belgium and Italy and arrive in Venice to take a position as  barman at the chic Monaco Hotel.

Harrys bar signTaking a casual stroll west from Piazza St Marco, on a small street leading to the Grand Canal, one can find Harry’s Bar. It is an iconic place in its own right, opened by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1931 and very quickly frequented by famous people. The bar quickly became a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and it is the birthplace of the Bellini cocktail.

Ever since the first opening day, the bar has attracted the international and refined clientele that habitually come to Venice on holiday. The first and only guest book bears the signatures of Arturo Toscanini, Guglielmo Marconi, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Valentina Schlee, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Georges Braque, Peggy Guggenheim and many others.

Cipriani loungeHarry’s Bar is today the anchor to a global brand of restaurants positioned around the Cipriani name. The Cipriani company is based in Luxembourg and it owns and operates luxury restaurants and clubs around the world. The Cipriani family went international in 1985 when it opened a Harry’s Bar branch in New York City in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Today there are bars and Cipriani restaurants in Venice, New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Miami, Ibiza, Porto Cervo, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul and Monte Carlo.

Ciprinani wall signThe secret of Cipriani isn’t about what can be seen or touched, but what can be felt and sensed. It is intangible but palpable. It can’t be patented, but even after seventy-five years it hasn’t been duplicated by others.

In the sentence above lies the true secret of branding in the 21st century.

In a world of fast change and strong competition, the “soft factors” are what sticks and are most attractive. The soft factors includes place branding but also historic origin and other emotional values and senses.


Implicitly understanding this, or maybe by just using the attraction factors that were the most obvious to them, four generations of Cipriani have grown a single restaurant, into a world renowned hospitality brand still recognized for its distinguished venues and service all over the world.

Venice as a global tourist brand and Harry’s Bar as the origin of a global restaurant franchise are classic examples of successful place management and brand development.

Based upon the initial success of the bar and its association with famous visitors, in combination with the lure and enticement of Venice, the Cipriani company has developed a unique world wide brand that locates the restaurant offering in the sweet spot which aligns Cipriani´s  capabilities with customer needs in a way that competitors cannot match, given the changing external context and location.

Europe 1730To put this lesson into perspective, Europe is full of places like Harry’s Bar in cities with a historic past, where the opportunities of the place have not been utilised as they could.

Europe is also full of companies where an important part of their brand is inherent in the company history and in the unique capabilities and values of the companies origins.

By utilizing such brand attraction factors it is possible to innovate a brand to levels which are hard to compete with for more recently started companies from the BRIC economies.

To balance and develop all the assets of a company or of a place and make it attractive in the global marketplace is today a necessity for growth and wealth creation. The certain alternative is stagnation.


  1. After posting the blog, I was asked this morning about the best place to see the art of Venice.

    For me the Galleria dell´Accademia is without doubt the most impressive place to visit for art connaisseurs. It is a museum gallery of pre-19th century art in Venice, situated on the south bank of the Grand Canal. It contains masterpieces of Venetian painting, generally arranged chronologically. Artists includes Canaletto, Carpaccio, Tintoretto,Titian and Leonardo da Vinci.

    The maybe most famous painting is the drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo, which depicts a male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs stretched out and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. It is one of the most replicated motives in art.

    The Accademia was founded in 1750 by the Venetian Senate as Venice’s school of painting, sculpture, and architecture. It was moved to its present location, an old monumental monastery, in 1807 by order of the Napoleonic occupying forces.

  2. Thanks for your nice experience to share with us. Really awesome article with plenty of informative things to be known for us.

  3. Its like you read my mind! You appear to understand so much approximately this, like you wrote the e-book in it or something.
    I feel that you could do with a few p.c. to drive the message
    house a little bit, however other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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