Don’t mix up an economic crisis with a nightlife one. MIXOLOGY author Andrew Wilkin explored the Athens bar scene with the help of some renowned industry experts, finding out the top five bars you should visit on your trip to the ever-lively Greek capital.
“Economic vicissitudes hold no sway in Athens’ bars. Here, the parties have never been better, and no doubt they will continue to improve–the natural result of sharing, supporting and fostering within the community,” says legendary cocktail historian Jared Brown, who holds a soft spot for the ancient city.
He’s right. Take the media with a pinch of salt – the news coming out of Greece may be of the perpetually doom-mongering variety, but walking around the capital, you couldn’t tell. Creativity is at its highest, with restaurants, cafes, galleries and cultural hotspots opening faster than you can say alpha. And this also applies to the cocktail scene, which has been on a definite upswing – particularly since the opening of harbinger Baba Au Rum in 2009.
We’ve assembled the top five bars in Athens for your next visit to Greece. Perhaps at the Athens Bar Show coming up these days?
Baba au Rhum – the classic
We begin with the bar that led the charge. Baba au Rum has a worldwide reputation to shake a stick at, with visitors often making it their main stop-off in the capital. Even with such meticulously crafted drinks – drinks Dmitar Dimitrov, who visits annually for the bar show, applauds as “well balanced” – the bar exudes a laid-back, cool vibe. This is no doubt helped by the legendary hospitality of owner Thanos Purnarus (who also started publishing the new Fine Drinking Magazine earlier this year) and his well-trained team. And as the name suggests, it’s rum where they specialize – expect a big selection, with the cocktail menu boasting 6 types of Daiquiris and a selection of tiki drinks too.
Utilizing organic, locally sourced herbs, and spices both regionally and internationally sourced, the menu takes inspiration from the avant-garde. Just look at their signature cocktail, an umami daiquiri with Barcelo Imperial rum from the Dominican Republic, vanilla, sweet serry, oak, lime, basil and many other botanical notes. Their rum negroni switching gin for Botran rum from Guatemala is also a leftfield joy.
Here’s a hot tip. “On Mondays hot jazz adds even more pleasure to the social setting,” advises Brown.
The Gin Joint – hits the g-spot
“As the name suggests, this is a temple to gin and gin drinks both short and tall,” says Brown. And for sure, the humble in size – but obviously not in stature – Gin Joint does what it says on the tin.
Now 6 years old, the Gin Joint boasts more than 150 labels of gin, with owner Dimitris Kiakos, a member of the famed Gin Guild. There’s cheekily titled G&T’s on offer, such as the You Are The Gin To My Tonic, The Best Tonic Has A Large Gin In It, and the Popcorn & Tonic – which, yes, includes popcorn alongside Old Sport Dry Gin, Fernet Branca, and Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water. The menu is regularly updated, with classics complemented with seasonal twists. Grab one of their excellent Negronis or something from the section entitled “new fashioned alcoholic beverages” – we’d recommend the Robin Hood, which utilises the traditional Skinos Mastixa Spirit, alongside Plymouth Gin, House Vermouth, Vanilla “Submarine”, and Pink Pepper.
Nicola Radisis, owner of BeerBartender and resident of Athens, says “the atmosphere reminds me of the Prohibition period.” Swinging to 1920’s music, the vibe is more Blind Pig than Blind Drunk – the drinks are far too too good for that. The motto of the Gin Joint is “real drinks for genuine people”. Which is what a bar should be after all…
The Trap – the pleasant type
The Trap is hard to quantify – is it a cocktail bar or is it a bistrot? Well, it’s both, offering up French-style bistrot food as well as an impressive cocktail menu. It’s not the easiest trap to fall into – located in Syntagma Square, as central as you can be, it’s hidden on a oft-ignored arcade and thus stays off the beaten track. Nicola Radisis notes this. “The Trap is a bistrot bar that apart from the experienced and trusted team, has the rare privilege of isolation in a constantly busy area,” he says.
It’s not just isolation pulling Athenians in – it’s also been gifted a gorgeous interior, once used for cabaret, adorned with wooden panels, golden lighting, vintage furniture and a hand-painted ceiling. Effortlessly cool – it even complements its normal menu with two cocktails on tap.
This summer – The Trap’s first, having opened in January 2016 – has seen patrons take advantage of their ample al-fresco seating. Radisis also advises visitors to “try their creative list of cocktails but also give a chance to their beer menu as they are made exclusively in Belgium for their bar.”
The Clumsies – a cheeky misnomer
After many years of experience, Nikos Bakoulis and Vassilis Kyritsis – both Diageo World Class bartenders, with Kyritsis previously known for his work at the Gin Joint – opened up the hotter-than-hot The Clumsies. It’s an undeniably odd title, particularly in an industry where precision is both valued and bragged about on a regular basis.
What’s weirder is that the drinks are of the well-balanced, expertly mixed – not clumsily assembled – variety. Open in the morning for specialty coffee and breakfast, and open for cocktails from 3pm, The Clumsies is a beautiful multifunctional space to while away the entire Athenian day drinking top-notch drinks. Which is what you’d expect from two startenders like Bakoulis and Kyritsis. They’ve got a lab upstairs for innovation and the ten seated “Room” upstairs, where attendees can receive personalized drinks. “If you are looking for experimental, look no further because it’s all right there,” says Jared Brown.
9bita homebar – settle in
A good bar should make you feel at home, albeit not all bars offer all you require. 9bita homebar has it all. Expect expertly-mixed drinks for reasonable prices – including one of Athens best margaritas – but also a tapas list to make your mouth savour. A casual vibe and great music – note: things get louder here later – also predominate. Beer lovers can also find refuge here, with a range of Greek beers complemented by traditional German styles, Belgian beers, and much much more. Brown offers big words. “Warm, welcoming, and wonderful are the only words to describe this place,” he exudes.
Bildquelle: The Clumsies