We find ourselves in Venice after a romp around Padua, visiting the Luxardo Distillery, and take the opportunity to visit the newly opened Il Palazzo Experimental Hotel – the latest property from Experimental Group.
As their name might suggest, Experimental Group isn’t shy about shaking things up. From 2007 when it launched the first Experimental Cocktail Club bar in Paris, which aided the snowballing of the city’s innovative cocktail culture, to the recent opening of its dramatically contemporary Il Palazzo Experimental, we’ve learnt that when the team sets its mind to a challenge, it’s best to except nothing short of greatness.
We meet Experimental Group’s Xavier Padovani, who takes us on a tour and happily answers our litany of questions about the new venue.
Il Palazzo Experimental
Located in a 16th century palazzo overlooking the Giudecca Canal, previously owned – somewhat unglamorously – by a shipping firm, Il Palazzo Experimental’s interiors are a playful and refreshingly pared back take on traditional Venetian ostentation.
Designer Dorothée Meilichzon, a regular collaborator with the group, has managed to expertly fuse Art Deco motifs and dynamic colour schemes with classic Venetian architectural shapes, time-honoured crafts and local materiality.
On entering the hotel, we are immediately struck by the sheer volume of the space. A round marble-topped reception desk dressed in nautical stripes sits at the entrance atop checkerboard terrazzo flooring that stretched throughout the lobby and restaurant. As we walk down the centre of the building towards the private garden at the rear, we admire the textural Marmorino Stucco-style walls and stylised arch motifs borrowed from the waterfront façades.
Ristorante Adriatica can be glimpsed through the arches to the left. A small welcome bar serves wines, Spritz and Aperitivi before diners are ushered through to the dining area, which looks out onto the open kitchen, complete with wrap-around counter. On the other side of the lobby, the latest iteration of the world famous, Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC), is cocooned behind a door set in a velvet arch.
The Guestrooms & Suites
As we climb the stairs to the guestroom floors, we question Xavier about why the group decided to open its sixth hotel in Italy.
“We’ve been looking for a location that matched what we wanted to do for a long time. We’ve always dreamt of opening [in Venice] so when the opportunity rose, it could not be missed! It’s an amazing location!”
He’s not wrong! As Xavier takes us around the upper floors and lets us explore some of the 32 rooms and suites that make up the hotel, we are left in awe of not only the bones of the Renaissance era giant but also what the design team has accomplished with them. Candy-striped hallways with impossibly high ceilings and gothique fleuri windows looking out over the canal are noteworthy features in themselves, as are the doors to the rooms, set back behind full-length Venetian-style shutters and bedecked with brass anchor knockers.
The guestrooms are a Wes Anderson fanatic’s dream and are so elegantly and creatively designed it hurts. The familiar arch motif proliferates throughout headboards, furniture, mirrors and even inset carpeting. Other nods to the local aesthetics can be found in the twisted “pali da casada” style poles framing the beds, wave-shaped partitions and pinstriped cushions.
The designer also took her colour palette cues from the surrounding neighbourhood, with mossy greens and navy hues alluding to the laguna and blush pinks and deep reds recalling the painted homes that line Dorsoduro’s canal ways.
With the hotel only just opening a few days ago, Xavier points out, with professional perfectionism, various minute features in one room that are not quite finished, before opening the window to allow us full appreciation of the astounding views over the canal.
Our love of the location is cemented as he leads us up to the Altana – a small terrace on top of the roof with the most breath-taking panoramas. He freely admits that they aren’t quite sure what they will be doing with this space yet but proudly states that such terraces are greatly sought after in Venice, so they’ll certainly be doing something special with it.
Our tour complete, we head down to Ristorante Adriatica for a trial of the work-in-progress menu.
Ristorante Adriatica is pure drama. Huge marble plinths and gothique fleuri windows frame extravagant interiors, designed once more by Dorothée Meilichzon. Deeply veined Breccia Capraia marble tables, wave-shaped striped banquettes, terrazzo scarpa flooring, and a clashing palette of salmon pink, off-white, bordeaux and pale green are a few of the choice highlights.
We take our seats and are presented with an introductory menu by the resident Italian Supper Club. The food on offer is set in stark contrast to the decor, celebrating elevated simplicity and seasonal produce from Italy’s coast, with classic dishes.
We start with Sant Erasmo Tomatoes, Stracchino and Black Olives (€8) – a simple and fresh salad with strongly flavoured olives, ripe tomatoes and gentle, creamy cheese. Not a bad palate cleanser and a nice entrée made entirely from local produce. The Mixed Venetian Salami (€17) is a more substantial, delicious meat option that we would recommend.
For our mains, we elect for the classic Spaghetti Cavalieri Con Caparossoli (€18), more commonly know as “Spaghetti alle Vongole”. The local speciality clam dish is made by cooking the clams in sea water and adding some of this to liquid to the pasta. This creates a punchy and full-bodied flavour. Sadly, we found this particular iteration way too salty and overpowering on the initial. However, a good deal of cracked black pepper tempered the dish enough for us to finish it.
A little bit shaken but not perturbed by the main course, we saunter on to our dessert of Tiramisu (how could we order anything else when Venice is so often credited with the founding of such a sweet). Unfortunately, it is a little underwhelming and we leave the table with the assumption that the quality will be tightened up in the coming weeks – the restaurant is only a few days old and must be given some time to find itself.
Quite ready for a drink, we head over to Experimental Cocktail Club to reacquaint ourselves with bar manager, Marta Barbaglia.
Experimental Cocktail Club Venice
As we enter through the side door, we are struck by the coordinated difference from the rest of the hotel.
The bar is as intimate as Adriatica is vast. Designer Cristina Celestino’s contemporary take on the ornate interiors Venice is famed for combines traditional crafts with modern aesthetics in a manner inspired by Carlo Scarpa. The glass frontage looking out towards the canal evokes serliana archways and glitzy half-crescent mirrors recall windows in neighbouring palazzos. Striking pink walls are offset by plush teal, silver and brass carpet, whilst a polyphony of marble is met with delicate pearl pendant lighting and nods at the city’s colourfully striped “pali da casada” poles. On closing the mirrored door to the hotel, the jewellery box interiors are completed and the atmosphere created is that of Venice’s newest and funkiest members’ club.
Marta is working solo behind the bar. A familiar figure once known to work at London’s Original Sin, Marta is known for her relaxed congeniality, vast knowledge and impeccable set of skills.
She left Original Sin back in 2016 as she “needed a break from London, and [she] decided to go travelling for a while.” She speaks fondly of her time at the bar, stating that she’d never have left if she didn’t need a break from the city: “The women I was working with there were definitely one of the best team I have ever worked with.”
Marta and ECC’s paths kept crossing around the world but they had previously never worked together. “I’d just got back from travelling (again) when I heard about their new openings in Venice and Menorca”, she recalls.
“This time I wanted to work in my own country but still with an international crowd and I was ready for a new challenge. I always admire Experimental Group and Venice looked as a great chance for me and a crazy idea at the same time.”
Fast-forward a few months and here we are in her gorgeous bar that is already becoming a firm favourite with locals and international visitors. Her menu comprises nine drinks: ECC Signature Serves that are also present in the Paris and London venues, as well as a selection of five cocktails based on Italian spirits, like Amaros, Grappa and Vermouth. The final drink is “a Negroni del Palazzo, our twist on a Negroni that will keep changing through the seasons.”
Mouth watering, our eyes roam the list before alighting on Marta’s current favourite – Ponte Lungo (Yaguara Cachaça, Cocchi Americano, Fennel and Lime; €12). This unsurprisingly proves to be outstanding: somewhat comparable to a gently viscous, higher mouthfeel and more complex Caipirinha.
As we sip at the bar, our eyes follow the incredible line-up gracing the back-bar including unexpected gems such as Habitation Velier Forsyths WP, Fortaleza tequila, and Vida mezcal. Marta chats freely about her selection, announcing that “this is only the start”, before making us variations of classic cocktails such as a perfectly rounded and smoky Ultima Palabre (a mezcal version of the Last Word, with green chartreuse and lime), and a sweet, herbaceous Red Hook. Each drink comes with off-the-cuff backstory and anecdotes that we lap up and which make us feel very much at home in the buzzing bar.
Hours go by and what was meant to be a quick after-dinner drink turns into a full-blown session, with fantastic drinks had by all and a growing group of drinking companions including Alessandro, the hotel’s new resident DJ, hotel guests from Germany, and local Venetian revellers. Marta welcomes all with easy hospitality and it’s no wonder that, even though the bar has been open for less than a week, people are already coming back for more.
Marta and the ECC team have managed to quickly create the feeling of a quirky neighbourhood bar within this stunning hotel within just a few short days. With on-point drinks, a sumptuous décor and fantastic atmosphere, this is a bar we will be returning to time and time again.
Il Palazzo Experimental Hotel is a story of outstanding design, unique offerings and thoughtful service. The guestrooms are a pleasure to stay in and make you feel truly special and at ease. Whilst Ristorante Adriatica was a tad disappointing, we have no doubt that this was due to a few soft launch hiccups that have now likely been quelled. Experimental Cocktail Club Venice is the real gem in the hotel’s crown, working as both a fantastic service for guests and a standalone lure to members of the public. We can’t wait to see how the hotel does in the coming years.
If you’re travelling to Venice and looking for a break from the traditional (impressive yet sometimes a bit overbearing) opulence, Il Palazzo Experimental is your answer.
Prices start from just £94 per person per night. Interested in finding out more? Visit Booking.com to learn about pricing and book.
Il Palazzo Experimental Hotel, Fondamenta Zattere Al Ponte Lungo, 1411, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy