At the St. Regis Venice, when late afternoon starts to shift into twilight, a group of barmen in crisp white jackets prepare for the evening ritual. A Champagne cart armed with an ice bucket and a dozen glasses rolls out into a leafy courtyard. Then, against a preposterously picturesque backdrop of the Grand Canal, someone opens a bottle of Champagne with one fluid sweep of a sabre. A gathered crowd cheers, flutes are filled, and everyone gets to toast the day.
Sabre Champagne Over Grand Canal at St. Regis Venice
Sebring or sabrage — the technique for opening a bottle of Champagne with a sabre or a curved blade — started, by some accounts, with Napoleon Bonaparte. The French general reportedly said he deserved Champagne after a victory and needed it after a defeat, which makes perfect sense. It’s a spirited tradition that, in the early 1900s, the founder of the St. Regis Venice also adopted.
“John Jacob Astor liked to have a bottle sliced open each evening to mark the transition from day to night,” says Facundo Gallegos, director of restaurants and bars at the St. Regis Venice. Nowadays, the brand’s 60-plus properties around the world honour the same tradition at cocktail hour. In Venice, that celebration happens in the Italianate garden, surrounded by roses and greenery, just a few feet from a steady stream of gondoliers skimming across the Canal.
Alongside the nightly Champagne sabering, the hotel is also home to a robust cocktail program. The menu at the Arts Bar, for one, draws from Venice’s long history as an artist enclave. (Long before it reopened as the St. Regis, the historic Hotel Britannia hosted the likes of J.M.W. Turner, John Singer Sargent, and Claude Monet.)
“Our cocktail experience always starts from the storytelling behind it, we always talk about the artist, their piece and the inspiration process to create the drink,” says Gallegos.
The red wine-based Venetian Cobbler, for example, is inspired by 16th century Italian painter Tintoretto, served under a glass dome with a flourish of green tea smoke. And the Canal-Art, mixed with mezcal and house-made artichoke cordial, is a homage to a Banksy mural the famed street artist created during the 2019 Venice Biennale. Drinks are served in their own bespoke glass, each created in collaboration with Berengo, a Venice-based contemporary glass studio.
The hotel also serves a notable Bloody Mary. Like the brand’s universal evening ritual, every St. Regis makes its own version of the tomato-based drink, which celebrates the cocktail‘s origin at the King Cole Bar at the St Regis New York. In Venice, the Santa Maria Bloody Mary is a tribute to the Santa Maria Della Salute, the 17th century Baroque church that sits just across the Canal from the hotel. This version is made with clarified tomato juice, which lends a translucent, soft golden hue, and is misted with local grappa, served in a glass designed to mimic the basilica’s dramatic dome.
In the midst of slicing open corks and clinking bespoke glasses, a spritz trolley also roves around the property. The cart is stocked with ingredients to make different shades of the signature Italian fizzy cocktail: clear, red, orange, and pink, “inspired by the hues of the sunsets and the colours of the buildings in Venice,” says Gallegos. “The most popular one nowadays is the Pink Spritz, made with sparkling wine, grapefruit liqueur and aromatic rose essences.”
An apt accessory for the city that made the spritz famous, the trolley is part of the experiential beverage offerings at the hotel — like the thoughtful Art Bar cocktails in their Avant Garde glassware, and the evening ritual.
“Guests are always delighted with the storytelling of this ritual,” says Gallegos, noting that each night, a patron is invited to do the honours of Sebring the champagne. “It’s a memory that will last for a lifetime. In this way, they are part of the history and the heritage of the St. Regis brand.” Slicing open a bottle of Champagne with a sabre on the edge of Venice’s Grand Canal will certainly leave an impression, just like the city itself.
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
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