Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 9, Paradise Found at Bar Avio, Pietrasanta.
I hold a longstanding frustration with bars, on the one hand they hold the promise of so much yet tend to deliver so little, and sadly the situation seems to be getting worse as the onslaught of giant flat screen TVs gradually reduce them all to that of a lowly sports pub, at least in the United States. In Britain the situation is marginally better given the number of pubs that still manage to maintain the traditional values of their trade, but even these are closing their doors at an alarming rate. However, in spite of all this I have always kept alive a hope that one day I would find the bar of my dreams: the mythical ‘Perfect Bar’.
This bar would be devoted to the fine art of socializing; a place where everyone feels immediately at home the moment they arrive; where only fine wine is poured, where the highest standards prevail, where food is on offer to complement the atmosphere not dominate it, where the decor is tasteful yet not the least bit pretentious, and where the prices are honest enough to allow everyone to participate.
It actually took me a while to realize that my life-long quest had been fulfilled as the subtle pleasures of Bar Avio slowly began to present themselves through a series of revelations that began the moment I walked through the door on that fateful day of Thursday April 3rd 2014.
It was my third day in Italy and on arrival in Pietrasanta by train from Florence I was astonished, and a tad irritated to discover a complete absence of taxis at the station, in the surrounding streets, anywhere, there were simply none to be found whatsoever. Flabbergasted I set about trying to locate one. Frustrated and fostering a growing irritation I picked a bar at random (Avio) and asked the tall handsome young man behind the bar if he would kindly call a cab while I sipped my beer – this was my introduction to Stephano (who I was soon to discover is indeed the world’s greatest bartender). I had made this same appeal to common decency at a bar in the central square and in return had been slipped a piece of paper with the telephone number of the cab company scrawled upon it, but having no mobile phone it was quite useless to me. And so I had some quite justifiable apprehension as to the outcome of my request. But sure enough in a flash he was on the phone and in no time at all I was duly delivered to Da Pio Bed & Breakfast via a nice clean unmarked car driven by a most polite and affable gentleman who set a modest ten euros for his services.
Later that night I returned to the bar and was greeted with a warm familiarity that at once made me feel welcome, comfortable and entirely at home as if I were already a regular, which as this was my second visit of the day I suppose in theory I was. Stephano introduced me to one and all, including the owner, Maurizio, a formidable looking man who ran the place with a genial air and welcoming if distant hospitality.
I think, in hindsight, I knew even that first night that something special lurked within the walls of Bar Avio. For one thing, quite unannounced, at a given hour the entire surface of the long wooden bar was suddenly and completely covered with plates of the most delicious looking food – all kinds of food; a variety of excellent cheeses, thin sliced meats, fresh bread, various sauces, olives, sliced vegetables; fennel, bell peppers, celery… a delightful smorgasbord of Tuscan delicacies, all of exceptional quality and all quite free with the purchase of a single drink. I was simply amazed – in awe actually, at the fabulous display of fresh and healthy looking food that constituted Bar Avio’s “Happy Hour”.
I don’t have time – and I’m sure you have not the interest, for me to detail every aspect of just why I consider Bar Avio the perfect bar, indeed The Best Bar in the World, Bar None! We’d have to sit down over a glass of wine (preferably selected and poured by Stephano) whereby I could share a few stories and recall the precise reasons I hold the place in such high regard, but as the days grew to weeks I found myself practically living in the place… at least after sundown. Between them Stephano and Maurizio create the perfect team: Stephano’s zeal, enthusiasm and knowledge of all things alcohol is quite stunning, his cocktails – magnificent architectural creations that are part food, part juice, part alcohol, are as delicious as they are unique. His extensive knowledge of wine is impressive. What’s more I have never met a bartender in my life who puts more effort into, and who succeeds with such style, in welcoming and entertaining his clientele. His flamboyant, animated form of expression, his attentiveness, his enthusiasm all combine to make whoever walks into Bar Avio feel as welcome and at home as the gaggle of regulars who, like myself (at least while I had the chance) encamp themselves there for long hours at a time.
But of course there would be no Bar Avio if not for the vision foresight and outright generosity of Maurizio, a man who projects a dignity and worldliness that speaks of a successful life in the marble business and who now delights in facilitating the congenial atmosphere that is Bar Avio. And from the warmth and universal high regard he receives from his customers I know that I am not the only one who realizes just what he has achieved in creating and maintaining such a bar. For while Maurizio is a man of few words, at least to those outside his close knit circle of friends, his sincere smile when coaxed from his ubiquitous deadpan expression, could melt a glacier. For the man is no fool; smiles are reserved for those who earn it. On rare occasions I did, and sometimes fell well short of the mark – as on the various times I attempted to tell him just how special his bar is. “Pah”.
The photographs you see were taken during the evening of my birthday, Thursday April 24th. At the time I had been frequenting the Bar Avio on a near-nightly basis for the past four weeks and was facing the prospect of leaving Pietrasanta in a few short days, and so the festive occasion was tinged with the bitter sweetness of a paradise found, all too soon to be lost.
Until Next Time,