Chioggia lies south of Venice, protruding from the mainland, and is popularly known as ‘Little Venice’, due to its canals and bridges on a more modest scale than Venice. However, one risks a sharp retort or foul look from a Chioggiotto (person from Chioggia) if that diminutive title is uttered in their presence, as Chioggia’s watery labyrinth existed before Venice. Perhaps it is this inferiority complex that has contributed to the fact that the Chioggiotti are a little unhinged. This is in no way an insult, as their madness manifests itself in charming, amusing and utterly unique characters. Unashamedly friendly, violently generous and fiercely talkative, there is no restaurant owner in Chioggia which doesn’t offer a memorable experience. But there is one Chioggiotto that trumps all the rest, and whose ‘restaurant’ is a bizarre but intriguing local (and international) phenomenon.
Chez Jackie Tonight
The dining experience at Jackie Tonight is somewhere between dreams and inebriation. The interior of Jackie’s house is a warren of dark rooms made yet more befuddling by the smoke from open fires and cigars that Jackie smokes. The rough walls are a jumble of mysterious objects collected by Jackie on the theme of magic, herbology and astrology. The mix of furniture recalls a pawn shop, and piled in every corner are ‘gifts’ left by diners, a pair of shoes, an umbrella, a mask of Mr Bean. The atmosphere is a strange mix between an old mansion with an extravagant but mad owner, and a medieval inn adorned with beer tankards and distressed furniture. But it’s the lucky that bag a seat on the mis-matching gold thrones and Rococo chairs. Those who draw the short straw find themselves gingerly perching on a coffin.
It might sound like the lure of a serial killer, but Jackie opens his home and hospitality to anyone brave enough to venture in, and asks for nothing in return. In fact, if one takes the time to listen, the story of Jackie is both moving and uplifting (if true). Playing in casinos from a young age, he learnt quickly about winning and losing, and about injustice when forced to surrender winnings by a Mafioso. He claims to have lived in a castle with a ballerina, and in the cupola of a church in Venice, to have opened 20 restaurants in Germany which he then gave to friends to run, and to have received presents of expensive cars then but passed them on to friends. As such, he offers wine and food to his guests, but won’t bring you a bill. If you wish to show you gratitude for the meal and experience you simply leave you contribution underneath the grappa bottle on your table. Jackie may be mad (and won’t be offended if you tell him so) but he might just understand how to live life better than all of us.
If you choose to venture down the dark alley and stumble across the jungle of plants, old bikes and strung up shoes outside his home, if you are brave enough to knock on the door and be ushered brusquely into the dark chaos within, you will be well rewarded. Dinners are generous and well cooked by him and his wife, including a family-sized pan of spaghetti and squid (appropriately black), a second course of grilled fish, and a dessert of cake and a bottle of grappa plonked on the table. Jackie himself will happily partake in selfies, persuade you to search for his internet presence, and invite you to take a tour of his unique abode. He is a well-loved local legend in Chioggia, which is perhaps why his unique restaurant is categorised as a ‘landmark and historical place’ on its Facebook page.
Look out for…
Jackie Tonight can be found at Calle ponte caneva, 915, Chioggia.