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A virgin Mojito at Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo in Pozzuoli, Italy. A good cocktail bar will have a wide selection of nonalcoholic drinks. 

Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes

A virgin Mojito at Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo in Pozzuoli, Italy. A good cocktail bar will have a wide selection of nonalcoholic drinks. Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes ()

A virgin Mojito at Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo in Pozzuoli, Italy. A good cocktail bar will have a wide selection of nonalcoholic drinks. 

Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes

A virgin Mojito at Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo in Pozzuoli, Italy. A good cocktail bar will have a wide selection of nonalcoholic drinks. Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes ()

Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo, a small spot near the old amphitheater in Pozzuoli, Italy, doesn't offer a beach view, but the bartenders are good and the drinks well-made.

Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes

Gran Caf? Cannavacciulo, a small spot near the old amphitheater in Pozzuoli, Italy, doesn't offer a beach view, but the bartenders are good and the drinks well-made. Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes ()

A table at Etoile, a bar along the waterfront in Pozzuoli, Italy. Summer in Naples' environs is the best time for the "apertivo," a bitter-sweet cocktail sipped before a meal. 

Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes

A table at Etoile, a bar along the waterfront in Pozzuoli, Italy. Summer in Naples' environs is the best time for the "apertivo," a bitter-sweet cocktail sipped before a meal. Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes ()

The bar Etoile, along the waterfront of Pozzuoli, Italy, is relaxed, well-attended and has a shaded, comfortable patio that looks out onto the bay.
 
Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes

The bar Etoile, along the waterfront of Pozzuoli, Italy, is relaxed, well-attended and has a shaded, comfortable patio that looks out onto the bay. Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes ()

The first time my wife and I went out for drinks in Naples, we were surprised by the plates of unordered food our server delivered with our cocktails, from bite-size pizzas to olives and small breadsticks.

Having been warned that some places in Naples try to overcharge Americans, we asked whether the food was complimentary before taking the first bite. Our server looked wounded. Of course it is free, he said.

Italy’s cocktail culture is beyond question, we now know. This is the country that gave the world Martini vermouth, Campari liqueur and their wonderful offspring, the Negroni. Most popular here is the apertivo, a bittersweet pre-dinner drink intended to open the taste buds before food. (Aprire, the root of apertivo, means “to open” in Italian.) Summer is prime apertivo time in Naples.

Where to go? I prefer the Pozzuoli area, just west of the city. The bar Etoile, along the city’s waterfront, is relaxed, well-attended and has a shaded, comfortable patio that looks out onto the bay. Choose between blended fruit drinks like a Bellini or the somewhat more austere spritz, the most popular apertivo in this area.

A spritz mixes sparkling wine (prosecco) and a liqueur such as Campari or the less bitter Aperol, with a slice of orange. It’s meant to refresh without being too sweet, better for sipping than gulping.

Gran Café Cannavacciulo, near the city’s old amphitheater, doesn’t offer the beach view, but the bartenders are good and the Negronis well-made. Named for the man who invented it, the Negroni combines gin, vermouth and Campari to good effect. Of close relation is the Americano, which replaces the gin with club soda.

A little distance from Pozzuoli is Cycas Café Lounge Bar in Bacoli. I’ve been there only a handful of times, but the location on Lake Miseno is nice, the nighttime vibe pretty great and the Mojitos terrific.

Whatever the bar or cafe, it should serve snacks such as chips, peanuts and small savory pastries to accompany any drink. Italian custom calls for food to be paired with alcohol, a smart idea given that even an apertivo carries a punch — Campari alone has a 25 percent alcohol volume.

The better the place, the better the food. Best of all, there’s no extra charge.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com

Twitter: @sjbeardsley

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