How to have a good night out in Venice
It's not always easy to find, and it may not be what you're used to back home, but there's plenty of evening entertainment in the lagoon city.
Venice’s glory days as party capital of Europe ground to a halt early in the 19th century. Nowadays, walk around after ten at night, and the city can feel like a ghost town. But there’s life in the old girl yet, if you know where to look…and if you’re prepared to opt for classical music, or settle for what back home would rank as a fairly low-key night out but here – thanks to the glorious backdrop and a special air of romance – might just prove to be a truly special evening.
For their entertainment, Venetians tend to eat early then retire to their favourite drinking den for an evening of cosy chat with friends. The bars that stay open until the early hours, however, are not (generally) in top tourist areas. For night time action, make for Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro, or Fondamenta della Misericordia in the northern Cannaregio area.
Which ever way you head, remember that nightlife venues in Venice aren’t always what you’d expect. There are café-bars that you wouldn’t look twice at during the day which at night become hot hang-outs. And almost all of the (few) live music and dance venues in the city multi-task as aperitivo bars, restaurants, late-night lounging spots and more besides. There are opportunities for clubbing – but not that many: if they’re dying to dance, Venetian night owls head for the huge establishments across on the mainland.
High culture has its home at the La Fenice opera house and the Teatro Malibran. Classical concerts of varying quality and often in costume can be caught in any number of venues around town, including some lovely churches. La Biennale is an umbrella organisation offering world-class arts and performing arts treats at various locations and times through the year.
La Fenice opera house
(Campo San Fantin, San Marco 1965; +39 041 786511; www.teatrolafenice.it)
Arsonists sent this ornately gilded and decorated opera house up in flames in 1996. It reopened in 2003, restored to its former glory but with improved acoustics and technical wizardry. Productions here are world-class, and demand is so high that the opera house no longer has a ‘season’ as such: there are operas, symphonic concerts, ballets and chamber music through the year. If the performances don’t appeal, take a guided tour of the theatre. Opera and concert tickets can be booked through the theatre’s website. Tickets and tours can be booked through the Hellovenezia call line +39 041 2424.
(Calle del Milion, Cannaregio 5873; +39 041 786511; www.teatrolafenice.it)
The activities of the Teatro La Fenice spill over into this 17th-century theatre not far from the Rialto bridge. Formerly the Teatro San Giovanni Crisostomo, the 900-seat venue was one of Venice’s largest and most active for decades. It stands on the site of Marco Polo’s family home. Tickets can be purchased through the La Fenice website or the Hellovenezia call line on +39 041 2424.
Venice’s Biennale umbrella is best known for organising the city’s contemporary art and architecture bonanzas – the former in June-November of odd years, the latter in August-November of even years: 2011 dates for the Biennale dell’Arte Contemporanea are 4 June to 27 November. La Biennale is also responsible for the Venice Film Festival which turns the Lido from sleepy seaside resort to centre of world cinema for 11 days at the end of each summer: in 2011 it runs from 31 August-10 September. Its other offerings are less famous but just as rewarding. Contemporary dance (13 February-27 March 2011), contemporary ‘serious’ music (2011 dates tbc) and theatre (10-16 October 2011) of the highest quality are performed in two wonderful spaces inside the Arsenale.
(Piazza San Marco, San Marco 48-50; +39 041 5286405; www.aurora.st)
Venetians have traditionally left St Mark’s Square to the tourists, especially in the evening when the palm orchestras tinkle away in front of classic cafés such as Quadri and Florian. The Jekyll-and-Hyde Aurora is a regular bar during the day, but after dark from Wednesday to Sunday (9pm-2am) young Venetians slink back to the heart of their city as Aurora transforms itself into one of Venice’s buzziest venues. Wednesday is an extended happy hour aimed at students, with extra-low prices. There are DJ sets (‘80s revival on Friday, electro on Saturday) plus dancing, art shows and great cocktails mixed by barman Bart: vodka sour laced with any fruit that’s in season is his speciality. Cocktails are around €7, a spritz just €2, though prices, Bart warns, change depending on the event taking place on any given evening. In summer, the Aurora crew moves to the chic ‘n’ sandy Aurora Beach Club on the Lido (lungomare G D’Annunzio 20).
Centrale Restaurant Lounge
(Piscina Frezzeria, San Marco 1659B; +39 041 2960664; www.centrale-lounge.com. Open daily 6.30pm-2am)
The Centrale is sleek, sophisticated, much favoured by visiting stars (Paris Hilton, Spike Lee, Coolio and Christina Aguilera have all dropped by) …but more New York than Venice. Still, if it’s cosmopolitan allure you’re seeking, this locale with its rather good (though not cheap) restaurant where you can order at all hours, and its after-dinner cocktails served in deep armchairs to the sound of live jazz or a lounge or minimal house sound track is definitely the place for you.
(Strada Nova, Cannaregio 3662; +39 041 5208544; www.dogadoclub.com. Open Tue-Sun 7am-3am)
Places to dance are few in Venice’s centro storico, but the Dogado – minimal-contemporary with the occasional baroque flourish – is trying to fill the gap. Friday sees swarms of students – local and foreign – dancing to a fairly standard mix of disco beats; on Saturdays, X-Club is a house and electro meet aimed at a slightly more sophisticated crowd. But many Venetians come here just for a cocktail, or to eat on the terrace and watch the world stream by on the busy Strada Nova below. To date, what has come out of the kitchen has been less than inspiring, but owner Salvatore Vella plans to upgrade during 2010, with themed-cuisine evenings. The new season will also see more music and dance offerings, he says.
(Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3054A; +39 041 5234740; www.orangebar.it . Open daily 10am-2am)
The bars in Campo Santa Margherita – a favourite student haunt and one of the few corners of Venice that stays lively into the small hours – come colour-coded: there’s the Rosso, the Bleu, the Noir and, most recently, the Orange. And Orange it is, all over its sleek, stylish interior with its long, curvy bar counter. Young locals and students galore flock here, for the friendly vibe and the good-priced cocktails but also for the mega-screen on which football matches and music videos are shown. There’s a private courtyard with terrace heaters in winter to keep smokers from freezing, and tables out in the square out front. Alternatively, watch people passing by in the campo from the roof terrace of this quaintly truncated little building.
(Fondamenta della Misericordia, Cannaregio 2540; +39 041 720581. Open Mon, Thur, Fri 6pm-1am; Sat, Sun 11am-2am)
Not very many years ago, Paradiso Perduto – Paradise Lost – was Venice’s nightlife scene, and just about the only place in the city to hear live music. Despite increasing competition, it tends to rest on its laurels. However, the live music which had dwindled to almost nothing is now a regular Sunday afternoon/evening feature, with a succession of local bands, plus blues, world music and jazz performers keeping all-comers happy from lunch time till late. The food served on long wooden communal tables is nothing special, but the paper bag full of fresh fish (€10) fried to order on the fondamenta outside makes a great snack. Moreover, the setting on the tranquil, atmospheric Misericordia canal is perfect, the ambience inviting: local hipsters while away long evenings here, glass in hand, in a warm buzz of conversation against an eclectic backing track. On a summer evening out on the fondamenta, it’s difficult to imagine anything more perfect. Thursday is poetry night, with readings from local bards and literary greats.
(Calle Contarini Corfu, Dorsoduro 1056A; +39 041 5200371 or +39 335 6873364 (cell); www.piccolomondo.biz. Open Tue-Sun 11pm-4am. Admission €10 - includes one drink)
Formerly El Souk, this time-warp disco near the Accademia gallery has been central Venice’s prime dancing venue since 1968 – in fact, its only dancing venue for several decades. Peggy Guggenheim used to come here, and photos on the walls show owner Franco with Roger Moore and Liza Minelli… which says it all, really, about the clientele which includes its fair share of ageing lotharios. But a resident DJ spins fairly acceptable pop and R&B and if this is your scene – or you’re just desperate to dance – most evenings you’ll find things here hopping with a clientele ranging from foreign students to Roger Moore wannabes.
Venice Jazz Club
(Fondamenta dello Squero, Dorsoduro 3102; +39 041 5232056 or +39 340 1504985 (cell); www.venicejazzclub.com. Open Mon, Tue, Fri, Sat 8pm-midnight. Admission €20 - includes first drink)
Jazz heads are well served in La Serenissima, thanks to the Venice Jazz Club. Located by the Ponte dei Pugni – the bridge between the nightlife hub of Campo Santa Margherita and Campo San Barnaba – the VJC has its own resident band, but guest performers from all over Italy and further afield are a regular occurrence, for sounds ranging from bossa nova or Latin jazz, to tributes to jazz legends. Doors open in this industrial-chic venue at 8pm: book a table well ahead if you want to sit down and graze on a menu of cold cuts and cheese platters. At 9pm the music gets under way.
When Venetians fancy a night clubbing, they leave the city far behind. There are clubs in the industrial mainland towns of Mestre and Marghera, a quick hop across the lagoon. But the time-honoured dance-till-you-drop mecca during the warmer months is the beach resort of Lido di Jesolo, 50km north east of Venice. From the Pietà vaporetto stop near St Mark’s, take line LN to Punta Sabbioni (note that you’ll have to get a night vaporetto to Lido to pick up this service if you’re travelling between 12.30am and 5am). There’s a bus on from there to Lido di Jesolo, where you’ll be spoilt for dancing choice: just walk the seafront until you find your vibe. Il Muretto (via Roma Destra 120, www.ilmuretto.net) is a classic, with local and international DJs playing some serious house. Or bop beneath the palm trees to hip hop and R&B at the Vanilla Club (via Buonarotti 15, www.vanillaclub.eu).