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The family behind Harry’s Bar, the legendary Venice drinking hole where Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway once raise their glasses, has been asked to step aside for the first time in 80 years as it sinks under a mountain of debt.After three years of losses, the bar has accumulated a debt of almost six million euros (£4.9 million) and creditors are now demanding a restructure of the world-renowned bar and restaurant.
President and managing director Arrigo Cipriani, the 80-year-old son of Giuseppe who opened the bar’s doors in 1931, has been forced to step aside after external commissioners were appointed by the Banca Popolare di Vicenca and the Banco Popolare.
The banks have asked Gianluca D’Avanzo and Salvatore Cerchione from Blue Sky Investment, the Luxembourg company that runs the group with the family, to supervise the restructure and radically cut costs.
It is the first time that the Cipriani family has been asked to play a secondary role in the running of the Italian bar which has hosted film stars from Humphrey Bogart to Woody Allen, European royalty and billionaires including Aristotle Onassis over the years.
Mr Cipriani said he had sought several times to negotiate with the bar’s 75 staff members in a bid to lower costs but could not avert a strike in March.
“They didn’t want to believe there were problems and we had to take a step back. Now they have to believe it and others have the job of reducing the costs one way or the other,” he said.
“These two managers must reach an agreement with staff to reduce costs and avoid sackings.”
Declared a national landmark by the Italian government in 2001, the bar is known for its signature Bellini cocktail and classic dry martinis as well as its traditional carpaccio.
It also spawned a worldwide empire of bars and restaurants from New York to Istanbul run by Mr Cipriani and his own son Giuseppe.
But Mr Cipriani insists that Venice is the only establishment fighting for its survival.
“From 2008 to today we have seen a 20 to 30 per cent fall in our clientele. These days many day trippers come to Venice, but not quality tourists,” he said.
“We cannot deny that we miss the Americans who were a guaranteed clientele for the whole year, we are feeling that. And that is not compensated by the new wave of rich Russians or Chinese. Maybe in the years to come they will replace the Americans. But today that is not so.”
Despite the successful global expansion of the business, Mr Cipriani and his son have made controversial headlines in the past. They pleaded guilty to tax evasion in the US in 2007 and agreed to pay $10 million (£6.2 million) in restitution and penalties in New York.