We’re all drawn to views of Naples Pier. The tangerine sun melts into the blue-green waves, which caress the wooden pylons, creating an enchanting allure, even as the structure’s being rebuilt after Hurricane Ian’s wrath. Landmarks like these define Naples, but the lesser-known, locally loved nooks and crannies give a place its flavor.
The Naples Pier may have brought the people here in the 1880s, but the inventive locals helped foster our city’s legacy as a resort town, a hub for laid-back luxury and easy days in the sun. And it all started on Third Street South. After World War II, Junkie and Dorette Fleischmann (the same folks behind Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens) bought the Mercantile Building, which now houses Campiello, and turned it into an antique market. They built up more buildings along the avenue, invited friends to set up shop (including Gattle’s in 1962), and entertained famous friends (Gertrude Lawrence, Hedy Lamarr, Lawrence Tibbett), who fell for Naples’ easy charm.
Cruising around Old Naples today, opportunities abound for exploration. You could search for the hidden door to Vincenzo Betulia’s new speakeasy on Fifth Avenue South, venture down the end of Eighth Avenue South to where couples say ‘I do’ at the so-called Wedding Beach, or find yourself sipping wine in the secret garden at the back of Patina Collection off Third. After nearly three decades of living in Southwest Florida, I’m still constantly surprised by Old Naples. For a recent jaunt through the neighborhood’s bougainvillea-dotted streets, I poll some local friends for insider secrets and set off on an adventure.
I start at Crayton Cove, a charming corner defined by Naples City Dock and Cove Inn on Naples Bay. While the storm wreaked havoc on the quaint waterfront district, a few mainstays have reopened with panache—namely, The Dock at Crayton Cove, where the famous bloody mary recipe hasn’t changed since the restaurant opened in 1976. But we’re not here for bloody marys today. Instead, I pull into a 43-year-old staple: The Cove Inn Coffee Shoppe. “That’s where my son and I eat breakfast on Mother’s Day,” Kathy Prutos, a former longtime public relations rep for Fifth Avenue South, tells me. The hotel lobby’s cash-and-check-only diner is favored for its friendly service and savory-sweet pancakes, crisped on the edges and soft in the center. It’s nothing fancy, but the home-cooked breakfast and lunch more than make up for the lack of glamour. We leave full and happy, with a doggy bag for later.
We zip down Broad Avenue South to the heart of Old Naples: Third Street South. The shopping and dining district is a treasure trove of antique fountains and storied buildings. Third Street’s Danielle Vigliotti, who’s lived in Naples for more than a decade, says to start with a coffee from Tony’s Off Third, where, if you’re lucky, you can also grab a slice of carrot cake. “It’s a secret family recipe,” Danielle says. ”It’s not always there, so when you see it, it’s special.” She points to Judith’s on Third, interior designer Judith Liegeois’ new concept with an upstairs art gallery hosting a roster of artists-in-residence and works from local talent, including local assemblage artist Ran Adler and architect-turned-painter Richard Diedrich.
A few blocks south, Jane’s Cafe on 3rd is a favorite for its serene koi pond seating, but there’s another plant-filled oasis nearby that I’m dying to try. “I found it!” I say to my husband as we power-walk past the Mythical Horses Fountain to the sign for 33-year-old Old Naples Pub. A hunter-green bulletin board outside Barbatella blends into the surrounding shrubs, and an arrow pointing to a vine-shrouded alley reads, ‘This Way to Old Naples Hidden Treasure.’ I’ve lived here my whole life and have never noticed the sign, let alone the restaurant, before today. On the other side, vines snake up and cover the two-story building. Inside, the restaurant showcases 100 years of Naples’ history with newspapers pinned to the walls and memorabilia embedded within glass tables. A jar of the pub’s signature dill pickle spears sits at every table and bar seat within the cozy, wood-walled dining room.
You shouldn’t leave Naples without booking at least one dinner at Sea Salt. While there, be sure to ask about the off-menu, custom-blended olive oil—OLIOMANIA Biologico—produced from chef Fabrizio Aielli’s farm in his native Venice, Italy, as well as the Venetian glass tumblers they commission from artists in his hometown. Down the street, the Aiellis’ Barbatella presents another treat for art lovers via monthly live shows with Opera Naples.
Across the street, I was surprised to learn that the 1919 Mercantile Building that houses Italian restaurant Campiello, housed Naples’ first store, The Seminole Market. “It was the first building bought by the [Fleischmann’s] when they arrived in Naples,” Danielle adds. Most people don’t know you can book a private table on the floral-adorned balcony for a bird’s-eye view of Third Street. Inside, Campiello’s swanky The Club Room, a relatively new lounge within the restaurant, features live jazz musicians throughout Season. And, the best part is, you don’t need a reservation to pull up a seat at the club’s tucked-away bar.
More Italian imbibing occurs at Patina Collection—yes, we’re talking about the stylish home goods shop Karen Abell fills with chic finds from her summer trips to Tuscany. Starting this past year, on select evenings, Patina’s patio garden transforms for sumptuous Aperitivo Nights with charcuterie boards and Italian cocktails. There are also monthly Rosé Thursdays for up to 40 guests. “From those events, people become friends,” Patina’s retail manager Amy Wilkins says, adding that guests often get a discount during events. For another covert experience, in-the-know oenophiles seek out Joseph Wendt Custom Clothiers for Italian vinos from the wine bar at the back of the stylish menswear atelier.
Fans of bubbly and baubles head north to Provident Jewelry, on Fifth Avenue South–once known as Naples’ Four Corners, where the first stoplight was built in 1948. At Provident, the marble-clad Dream Factory bar beckons among the display cases of Bulgari and Cartier. There, staff can mix up an old-fashioned or pour a glass of Champagne while you peruse the collection.
Having grown up in Naples, I think I know all the Fifth Avenue highlights: Sails’ brunch on the weekends, Pazzo! for homemade pasta, Truluck’s for a formal night out. But, I find there’s much more than meets the eye on this glitzy strip. On a recent call with one of my favorite local restaurateurs Vincenzo Betulia, the mastermind behind Campagna Hospitality Group (Osteria Tulia, Bar Tulia and The French Brasserie Rustique), I get the scoop on his new speakeasy-steakhouse concept, Rouge. “You’re not going to be able to enter from The French Brasserie, you can’t make a reservation through The French, you can’t make a reservation online—there’s no website,” Vincenzo says. To get into the sultry five-table, 18-seat space, diners text a number that Vincenzo monitors from a rouge-tinted cell phone. They don’t reveal menus ahead of time, but ensure a “meat-and-potatoes” experience with fine wines and finer cuts of beef. Look for the small neon sign illuminated behind The French at night.
During the day, if you hear harmonic flurries emanating from one of Fifth Avenue’s alleyways, follow the music. It’s not uncommon to stumble across a jazz orchestra playing outside at Cambier Park, where locals stretch out blankets and beach chairs to take in the big band tunes. On Saturdays, see the Naples Dixieland Jazz Band perform at the bandshell before you head to Brambles for morning tea. The brews taste a bit sweeter when you sip them in the restaurant’s connected alleyway, known as Rue des Fleurs, where blooming florals and tropical plants, and bistro-style seating accent the tearoom’s pink walls.
Aesthetes, don’t sleep on the side street gems off the main drag. Any self-respecting Neapolitan will tell you visits to Dominic Lacquaniti’s sumptuous tailoring and shoe boutique on Eighth Street, and Marvin Rouse’s new studio off Fourth Avenue South, are not to be missed. Then, once you’ve scoped the new, world-class exhibit Frank Verpoorten has dreamed up at Naples Art Institute, walk to #ArtAveto5th between Chops City Grill and Engel & Völkers. It’s the perfect spot for a selfie, with abstract panels by Naples artist Timothy Parker. Nearby, I’d heard rumors of parks hidden between the shops on Fifth, but I never expected the serenity I found at Merrihue Mini Park—nestled between Coldwell Banker Realty and Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Mini is accurate: The park mainly comprises a few benches in a shady courtyard, but behind a vine-covered divider, a secluded dock jets off into a residential lake, providing refuge from the Fifth Avenue bustle.
To round out the day, I head about a mile north to another downtown treasure: The Garden of Hope and Courage. The 2.5-acre park within NCH Downtown Hospital’s campus is centered around a 1-acre lake, surrounded by manicured shrubs, impressive bronze statues and towering palms. The green space is the kind of secret spot locals would probably prefer we keep to ourselves. But, this is Naples. We’re willing to share.