Oddly Enough

Hemingway haunt gives discounts to "poor Americans"

ROME (Reuters) - Harry’s Bar, the famed Venice watering hole where Ernest Hemingway held court over hearty food and stiff martinis, is offering a discount to “poor” Americans suffering from a weak dollar and subprime blues.

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The decision by the owner of the restaurant, one of the most expensive even when the U.S. currency is strong, underscores the growing concern about the weak dollar among tourism operators in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

A sign posted outside the restaurant at the weekend reads:

“Harry’s Bar of Venice, in an effort to make the American victims of subprime loans happier, has decided to give them a special 20 percent discount on all items of the menu during the short term of their recovery.”

When the euro was introduced as the continent’s common currency in 2002, a dollar bought about 1.10 euros. Today it gets about 64 euro cents, making prices seem astronomically high for most Americans.

“Since the start of January, we noticed a drop in (American) customers of between five and 10 percent and now that we are in April its looks really frightening,” Arrigo Cipriani, 76, Harry’s owner, told Reuters by phone from Venice on Monday.

ENIT, Italy’s national tourism board, said in a report this month that the “strong devaluation of the dollar compared to the European currency and signs of a recession are currently the greatest obstacle to American tourism toward Europe.”

Harry’ Bar was founded in 1931 when Giuseppe Cipriani, a barman at a Venice hotel, opened it with money an American named Harry Pickering had given him to pay off a loan.

He named the bar and his first son Arrigo (Italian for Harry) -- the current owner -- in Pickering’s honor.

Hemingway made Harry’s Bar his Venice headquarters. He mentioned it in “Across the River and Into the Trees,” which was published in 1950 and which he wrote on the lagoon island of Torcello while living in an inn owned by the Cipriani family.

Cipriani, whose family company owns high-end restaurants and food shops in New York, Venice, Hong Kong, London and Sardinia, says even well-heeled clients look for discounts.

“You would be surprised how people like to have a discount on their bill whether they are rich or poor,” he said, adding that a full meal with wine at his Venice restaurant could set someone back more than 200 euros ($314.5).

Cipriani, who said the discount will apply only to the restaurant part of the tab and not the bar, said Americans in Venice need not bring their passports to his restaurant in order to get a discount.

“We will judge by the accent and if we make a mistake, we will give a 20 percent discount to the English as well,” he said.

Reporting by Philip Pullella