Regular readers will doubtless be well aware that the Gritti Palace is one of Venice’s finest hotels, a restorative oasis tucked away in the centre of San Marco and an uncompromising ode to a former era of renaissance glamour on the banks of the Grand Canal. A medieval structure, the towering palazzo was built in the Venetian Gothic style by the formidable Pisani family (then one of Italy’s most powerful political families), in 1475. With an exterior that has changed only slightly since, the hotel takes its name from the 16th century Doge of Venice, Andrea Gritti, who evicted the Pisanis to claim the Gritti as his own private residence in 1525, so enamored was he with its splendour.
Today, the hotel feels as palatial as it evidently did at the opening of the Renaissance, and has welcomed no small amount of intellectuals, political-heavyweights and artistes over the years; Churchill, Hemingway, Orson Welles and Luchino Visconti are a few of the names that spring to mind. With its grand interiors, dark mahogany furnishings and wealth of exquisite oil paintings, it feels every bit the abode of an aristocratic family. The hotel underwent a meticulous 35 million Euro restoration in 2012, re-opening in May 2013 in it’s current state as a part of Marriott International's The Luxury Collection. “There’s a mystique about The Gritti Palace that has enchanted its guests for generations, so it was essential that we involved local artisans, architects, craftsmen and cultural institutions to preserve its authentic elegance,” said Paul James, Global Brand Leader of The Luxury Collection, St. Regis and W Hotels Worldwide when the hotel reopened. Clearly, this careful and uncompromising approach has worked; there’s absolutely no doubt in The Rake’s collective consciousness that the Palace of today is a more elevated establishment than it has ever been hitherto.
The jewel of the hotel though is the exquisite Longhi bar. With etched Venetian mirror walls and unashamedly ornate furnishings, it features some of the best cocktails in Venice (incidentally the first cocktail you ordermust be the eponymous Gritti Special, which, as a delicate blend of dry vermouths, orange bitters and Campari is the kind of thing that you’ll start sipping as an aperitif and decide fairly quickly will serve more than adequately as a liquid-supper), easily accompanied with a moreish Cicchetti experience. It’s a true sophisticate’s retreat, indulgent and effortlessly chic in equal measure, with attentive staff and a similarly tasteful clientele to match.
"The Gritti Special is the kind of thing that you’ll start sipping as an aperitif and decide fairly quickly will serve more than adequately as a liquid-supper."
What is more, as the story of the hotel continues to evolve, so too has the Longhi. Most recently, to counterpoint its dark, elegant interior, The Gritti Palace has collaborated with Riva, the undisputed titan of luxurious Italian design, to create the ‘Riva Lounge’, an almost impossibly elegant new terrace abutting the bar and resting atop the Grand Canal. With achingly gorgeous views of the Santa Maria Della Salute Cathedral across the canal, the terrace feels modern yet timeless. Wooden decking mirrors that of Riva’s famous yachts and comfortable Aquarama seating (which again offers a charming nod towards the seats used by Riva on the mythic Riva powerboats of the ‘60s) is set against chic, simple chrome cocktail tables and the rich backdrop of the hotel itself.
On a recent escape to Venice, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take an evening to visit the Riva Lounge, drink two cocktails (both Gritti Specials), guzzle olives and watch the early-evening sun warm the glorious stonework on the other side of the canal. It was only a couple of hours at the end of a rather hectic trip, but it made for a genuinely serene experience, and delivered everything that one wants from a luxurious bar; comfort, style, discretion, attentive service, and intelligently designed, delicious cocktails. Indeed, it’s one of very few therapeutic spots in a city that, though glorious, is almost always a maelstrom of touristic and attention-seeking gaudiness. The Gritti, and particularly the Longhi with its new Riva lounge, is the diametric opposite of gaudy; its discreet, its beautifully designed and it’s comfortable. It is, in short, one of the most rakish bars we can think of – well worth making a pilgrimage to on your next visit to Italy.