You have to try hard not to drink good coffee in Naples. Every neighborhood bar is a window into the vivacity of that sliver of Neapolitan territory. The first thing I do every morning after rolling out of bed and making myself look generally presentable (locals might argue that lululemon pants and crocs do not qualify as presentable Napoli- and who am I to quibble) is head to the bar across the street from my house. I go for the company. The invasive inquiries into my personal life. The exchange of hyper local recipes and even more hyper local gossip. This is the bar where I start my day. Twelve hours later, I will also end my day here with a spritz or a gingerino and a complex discussion of what was for lunch and what will be for dinner and how I will spend my Easter and whether I will make or buy my pastiera. It may only be February, and yet this is the idle chatter heard in Neapolitan bars everyday across the city. To know Napoli is to know her bars. Below are the most iconic.
1. BAR MEXICO, PIAZZA GARIBALDI
Today Bar Mexico is a franchise and the Passalacqua coffee it serves is available in markets all over the South of Italy. The original Bar Mexico in Piazza Garibaldi feels straight out of the 1960s. The harsh artificial lighting, bright orange décor and barista uniforms transport you to booming post WWII Naples. Coffee is richly thick and served sugared and in a hot cup or tazza calda, the way most Neapolitans prefer. Most locals will also tell you this Bar Mexico is home to the best espresso in all of Napoli. The baristas are also among the town’s most talented.
2. GRAN CAFFÈ GAMBRINUS
No trip to Napoli is complete without a visit to the Belle Èpoque Gambrinus. You can order your coffee on the go while standing up at the bar. However, I highly suggest indulging in the luxurious seated ritual of sipping afternoon coffee and nibbling on a sweet when visiting Gambrinus. Inside, Gambrinus is drenched in old world tapestried luxury. Outside, on the terrace, you can appreciate views of the Teatro San Carlo. Gambrinus is also a traditional watering hole for the opera loving crowds who flock here before heading to the famed theater across the street. Gambrinus is certainly not where I drink my daily coffee, and nor should it be. This is a place to be savored on special occasions, preferably before heading to the opera.
3. IL VERO BAR DEL PROFESSORE
Down the street from Gambrinus, you will find the slightly more rustic, but charming Vero Bar del Professore. Order the caffè alla nocciola (hazelnut coffee), a perfect shot of whipped cream and hazelnut coffee that is possibly one of the finest afternoon treats I have sampled in Naples, or anywhere for that matter. The congenial baristas will happily explain the history of Naples, coffee and their lives to you if you don’t watch out.
4. SPAZIO NEA
This is not a typical Neapolitan bar, yet in recent years it has grown on me. It offers a tranquil respite in the busy centro storico on the steps of Piazza Bellini- which after sunset becomes a blunt-smoking circus. Nea is calm, plush and has wifi. Better yet, they, unlike most bars in Naples, permit you to work on your laptop here. It is still uncommon to work in coffee bars in Naples. Nea, is of the younger spirit and will happily allow you to pass the day working and sipping away.
5. GRAN CAFFÈ CIMMINO
The paneled wood interior and busy morning crowds make Gran Caffè Cimmino an indispensible Neapolitan institution. Come here at the height of morning rush hour, around 8, order a caffè and cornetto (croissant) and just watch. Also note that in Naples we don’t eat our brioche and drink our coffee at the same time. First eat your cornetto. Then drink your caffè. To decipher Neapolitan morning rituals, come to Cimmino.
6. GRAN CAFFÈ LA CAFFETTIERA
This is my ladies meet-up spot. On Piazza dei Martiri in the heart of classy Chiaia is this lovely old world jewel. Take a seat on the outdoor terrace in the spring, order an espresso and brioche and watch the elegant ladies of Chiaia and their pampered pups stroll down the grand boulevards of Naples.
7. CAFFÈ CIORFITO
Explore the central artery of Spaccanapoli and stop at this beloved bar for a piccola pausa caffè. This is one of those bars you don’t appreciate until you leave and live outside of Naples. I used to enjoy an espresso here nearly every morning and never really fully grasped how richly sublime it was until I was stuck drinking burnt Tuscan coffee for two months. The espresso here is so thick you can nearly stick a demi-spoon straight up in it. Perfection.
8. CAFE DO BRASIL
This is the best coffee in the Vomero. Strictly a stand up, drink and get on your way cafe, this is a spot for serious coffee lovers on the move. If you are seeking seated respite, head up to Piazza Vanvitelli.
9. GRAN CAFFÈ NEAPOLIS
I finally began to ‘get’ Naples after a post-lunch visit to this café on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. The hyper-kinetic movement, the shouting, the bits of cookie crumbs furtively clinging to office workers’ shirts, this is the nucleus (or the under belly) of Napule. I do not suggest sitting down here. To fully experience the Naples pausa caffè (coffee break), one mustcome here, order espresso in a tazza calda, stand up and drink. Don’t burn your lips on the hot cup!
10. BAR AUGUSTUS
Stendhal called Via Toledo “the most crowded and the gayest street in the universe.” I think he would have enjoyed this bar in the middle of the crowded avenue. Via Toledo is a central shopping hub in Naples, and Bar August is an excellent spot to stop after a long day of shopping and gallivanting. It is more than simply a bar. It is a pasticceria and tavola calda, offering snacks, both sweet and savory throughout the day. Also a prime spot for an afternoon tipple and nibble.