A View from the City: Naples

Alexander Frezza from Bar in Movimento explains how Naples has embraced the cocktail 

Tell us about Naples’ drinking history

Naples – as in all of Italy – is mostly a wine drinking city. The aperitif is king here, we have dinner very late so that gives us a lot of time to drink before eating. The cocktail culture has had highs and lows according to which bartenders worked in the city. Once bartenders get really good they usually fly abroad so we lose them and have to start from scratch again. But the current cocktail revolution is building a bigger bartender community so we can handle losses better. Good bartenders are growing everywhere and slowly bar entrepreneurs are realising bartenders are a big resource and asset for the business and are giving them more power to do what they want. We are also starting to see bartenders open their own bars.

When did Naples get into cocktails and how far does the trend have to go?

The beginning of 2000 was when things got a bit more serious on the cocktail scene with bartenders coming back from London and the US offering better cocktail standards. In Italy the cocktail has never had the same value as food, so raising the bar helped raise the value people gave to good drinking. People now ask for international classics because they understand them and not just because someone put them in alphabetical order on a bar menu. We still have a way to go. I don’t think cocktail culture can rise as it has in other cities, I think Italy has limited growth space
for cocktails.

Who are the key players in Naples?

Naples is a very heterogeneous city, made up of different clusters of bars in different areas. Each area has its own clients and its own time of year in which it works. We are beside the sea and as soon as we can we like to go and drink on a beach. The main areas are the Centro Storico, the old part of Naples, with lots of university bars, good fun and late nights. The Baretti area in San Pasquale is a bit more posh with about 30 to 40 small bars in a very small area, venues range from mixology to shot bars.

My favorites are Happening Bar where Corrado Vittoria has invested a lot and is doing things his own way. Jazzy Bar where you can find Fabio Aiello – an oldie but goldie of the Neapolitan scene. Up on the hills in Naples there is Vomero area where Archivio Storico opened just a year ago but made a lot of noise, there you can find Dario Patierno making very classic cocktails in an old Neapolitan historical setting.

What are the latest trends – are there certain drinks, flavours or ingredients that are popular?

From a client point of view, vodka cocktails is still a best-seller but now it is mixed better, made with fresher ingredients and people appreciate that.

We finally have a stable supply of good ginger beer, so Moscow Mule is blowing the roof off every bar. Dark rum cocktails are on the up. For years dark rum was only drunk neat but now bartenders are starting to use it in their Manhattans. Gin is a growing trend and, although somewhat illegal by the Italian food laws, bartenders are starting to get creative and make their own gin syrups, sodas and liqueurs.

What is the best drink you have been made in Naples and who made it?

It was a Red Hook, made by Vincenzo Errico, the only guy I know that managed to make one of his cocktails famous on an international level. The cocktail is twist on the classic Manhattan and it quickly got famous around New York when he was working at Milk and Honey. It is super-good but it also taught me lots of things about how to make cocktails, of how the Italian style could conquer the world, and how less is more in cocktails. Try it.

Has the economic downturn had any effect?

The economy is difficult now, but being Italian and especially from the south, money for eating and drinking is the last thing we cut on our budget. Now is the time to conquer new consumers; only those who work in a professional manner and offer the best cocktail will survive.

I have noticed that the credit crunch has made a natural selection. Older, more mature customers have decided to spend their money in places where they hadn’t been for years, younger customers have started finally understanding what they are drinking, which makes me hope that we will see better times in the future make our job easier.