Posted On: 05/05/2003
At many St. Louis watering holes, patrons are lucky to get much more than a hard time when forking over $5 for a Bud Light bottle. A friendly smile? Only after a large tip (>$5). "Thank you?” Only dripping in sarcasm after a small tip (<$5).
Good hospitality can put one (or a lounge) over the top. If you're hosting a friend, you automatically say, "Make yourself at home." You can't get upset if your college pal drinks the last of the grape Kool-Aid. She's your guest. Deal with it.
Making people feel at home is a unique talent. You automatically offer what's yours, no matter what "yours" is. If you're Assistant Groundskeeper Carl Spackler (“Caddyshack”), you offer a cannonball of moonshine to chase the burn of your homegrown. If you're Jimmy Wah (“Good Morning, Vietnam”), you offer a free side salad if the formaldehyde in your beer is too much. If you're the Pietoso brothers (Bar Napoli), you open doors, give free snacks and work the room like Frank Sinatra.
The look …
Situated at the corner of Forsyth and Bemiston in downtown Clayton, Bar Napoli’s playful neon sign easily attracts the night eye. Like their owners, brothers Todd, Ande and Kye Pietoso, neighboring Café Napoli and Bar Napoli are related but not identical. Open since March 1, the bar is completely separate from the café.
On many of my visits, a valet smiled and opened the door to Bar Napoli. Nice …. The subtly over/under-lit and handsome bar, shaped like a backward question mark, anchors the main room. On the wall behind the bar, two flat-screen TVs showing the game straddle three more flat-projection screens which, at this time, display “2001: A Space Odyssey,” trippy graphics. In the future, the screens will parade shots of past guests.
At the south end is a small non-smoking side room (and weekday banquet room), with dinner tables and chairs. Soon almost 1,000 bottles of wine will be displayed against the back wall.
You won't see much in the ways of flashy décor at all. Martini-themed art adorns a few spots on the walls, but it blends in well enough that you don't even realize it’s there. A makeshift “stage” for the bands splits the north wall, but keeps the band at ground level for a more comfortable feel.
The scene …
For better or worse, Clayton bars attract a certain crowd: 25- to 40-year-old inner-suburban, white professionals. Still, Bar Napoli seems to bring out the best: no “Whooooo!”-ing girls, few tanned meatheads and – most amazingly – few people on cell phones (besides my research-assisting friends).
Bar Napoli is a well-mannered adult lounge with the crowd tipping 40-plus in age before 9 p.m. and younger patrons filtering in the rest of the night. The crowd really turned over during my visits, but the seats were always filled. Even with the youngest girls in the bar (the waitresses), the male-female ratio leans male most of the night.
Bar Napoli peaks on Wednesdays (7:30 to 11:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 to midnight), when the well-respected (and damn good) band Jon Thomas & Friends glides to the stage. Bassist Jon Thomas is joined by a rotating cast of jazz musicians. I heard improvisations mixed with jazz standards and crowd requests. Ask for “Stairway to Heaven,” but don’t get all annoying-hoosier-rock-fan about it.
Music doesn’t seem to be the attraction so much as an atmosphere touch, but polite applause follows every number. People mostly socialize and network. Best of all, there’s never a cover. Dress is more upscale than casual, with many men wearing blazers (no tie) and women in black.
The Pietoso brothers run Bar Napoli, and you know it by their welcome. They’re casually introducing themselves, taking pictures for the flatscreens and intermingling with guests, making you feel at home. Hospitality like this at a bar is rare.
If you consider guests freeloaders, don’t touch the complimentary snack mix set on every table. Cocktails, while pricey ($5 to $7), are flawlessly mixed and poured into funky glasses. Professional-yet-friendly bartender Han Tran shakes a damn good martini. Top-shelf vodkas drive the drink menu: Hangar 1, Absolut, Van Gogh, Grey Goose. Tuesdays offer specials on the more than 35 martini variations.
Domestic bottles, served in a tall frosty glass, sell for $3. Imports specialize in Italian selections (Peroni, Moretti, Menabrea) and run $4. Purple Haze, Boulevard and Heineken are on tap for $3.50. Scotches sell for $10 and under.
The extensive wine list offers bottles of mostly French and Italian reds and whites for $21 to $250. Glasses from Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia and California sell for $6.50 to $8.
Quality Italian-style antipasto choices like breaded stuffed olives, toasted ravioli and cheeses and prosciutto sell for $6 to $10, but people mostly seem to drink their late dinners.
The straight 411…
For a genteel, adult Clayton crowd, good jazz and a warm, hospitable welcome, head to Bar Napoli.
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