In 1999, Angelino Sandri and April Quinn brought their love of Venetian culture and boating to Lake Merritt with the establishment of Gondola Servizio, an authentic Venetian gondola experience. Sandri had honed his love of rowing in the canals of Venice and once returning to the states, realized the Lake had very similar, yet much less crowded waters to the Italian state.
Gondola Servizio has 3 boats in its fleet– a classic Gondola, a more private Felze, and a smaller flat-bottom vessel called a Sandolo. Each boat was manufactured by hand in Venice using 7 types of hardwoods and with proper upkeep, has a lifespan of 60 years. All are rowed by a trained staff, many of whom are from Italy themselves. As in Venice, each gondolier is held accountable for knowing the history of the boats, history of the surrounding buildings, as well as a variety of Venetian songs to sing, if the customers so please. While the image of the singing gondolier is mainly a Hollywood stereotype, Gondola Servizio truly caters to the customers’ enjoyment and their rowers are happy to share a song if requested.
The company tries to be as authentic as possible. Not only are the boats crafted in Venice, but also the state flags on the tips of the boats, as well as the gondolier’s shirts and hats, are from Venice. Due to regulation and the natural sun wear of a lower latitude, the only thing on the boats that is not from Italy is the paint, which must be touched up every now and then.
When the Lake Chalet Bar & Grill opened in the historic Lake Merritt Boathouse in 2009, Gondola Servizio found a new partner and was able to expand their customer experience. While they have always offered parties the option of bringing their own bottle of wine, the addition of Lake Chalet meant that Gondola Servizio could offer a variety of cruise packages to their customers, including wine and cheese tours, or trips with desserts and Prosecco. Always looking to please the customer, the gondoliers are ready to provide parasols for sunny days, blankets for chilly nights, and glassware, if you decide to BYOW.
Gondola Servizio often gets larger parties, daytime tours, and families, but romantic strolls around the Lake at dusk seem to be their most popular outings. Naturally, if the weather is right on Valentine’s Evening, as it was this year, reservations book up very early. The 1,800 lb. boats are designed for the calm airs of Venice, and can be harder to steer in the windy Autumn and Spring months on Lake Merritt. Surprisingly though, if a rower is skilled, it takes the same amount of energy to move the boat at 2.5 mph as it does to walk the same speed.
The company’s dedication to the Oakland community is not to be understated. A regular attendee of city council meetings, Quinn has championed the improvements to Lake Merritt’s park district, both through the heavy promotion of measure DD a number of years ago, and the advocating of the return of Oakland park rangers. The company also partnered with Oaklandish numerous times, bringing the Radio Regatta to Lake Merritt’s waters.
Last year, Gondola Servizio partnered with Shift Local to create a very successful photography contest, tied to the hashtag #picoakland. The contest gave Oaklanders one month to submit pictures of Oakland. For each of the 250 photos submitted, the group donated $1 to Pro Arts Gallery. 10 winners were chosen from the submissions and had their pictures printed by Bay Area Custom Prints, framed by Panorama Framing, and shown in a number of galleries around the Town. They will be doing the contest again later this year, and while details are still being worked out, this year’s theme will be Oakland in Motion.
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