Greece beyond Athens

4 Dec. 2019
Bars are thriving all over Greece

There’s more to Greece than its capital. During the 10th Athens Bar Show, Havana Club invited various bar entrepreneurs to a dinner introducing the new Professional Editions. We took the opportunity to talk with them about their businesses, the impact of the crisis, the Athens Bar Show and their drinks. In this first chapter, we hear about two entrepreneurs from outside of Athens. Next week, we’ll tell you about two entrepreneurs from Athens who are running essential bars that are maybe less known to the international community than they should be. Greece is a very diverse country and it’s time we shed some light on it.

Mihalis Botonakis — Bohème & Carte Postale — Chania (Crete)
«  I started 16 to 17 years ago, in my beautiful hometown of Chania in Crete. I was bartender and bar owner of a small place, the first bar in Crete and one of the first bars to do something different in the industry. 5 years ago we opened Bohème, a very beautiful place with a lot of spirits — about 600 labels — and we just opened a few months ago another bar-restaurant, called Carte Postale.
I feel very lucky to live in Crete because we have so many herbs and plants. We do a lot of research to use local produce. Two weeks ago, I was cutting mangoes 5 minutes by car from the bar. 20 minutes away, we have a fantastic botanical park. We create a lot of housemate ingredients with local produce. 90% of Greek avocado production come from here and we use it for our avocado cream. Or honey syrup, with cretan honey. 
In Crete the crisis didn’t affect us as much as it did in Athens. The crisis actually contributed to the evolution of Greek bars. People didn’t go out as much or spend as much money anymore but when they did they tended to look for more individuality, for things that they couldn’t find in other  bars. They wanted something special. And it grew and grew… You can see that just looking at the Athens Bar Show — how small it was ten years ago and how big it is now… And it’s not just the quantity but also the quality. Baba au Rum inspired a lot of people — me included. Then you had The Clumsies, new techniques, new products… The level is very high, it’s a good evolution for Greek bars. 
In Athens, you can have many different experiences in one night. It’s more difficult here. People don’t have that many bars so they have less knowledge. We have to work harder to educate customers. But we’ve been doing that for so many years and now you can say that we have a group of people that have been educated by us and by other bars in the area. They know where they’re coming and they’re looking for something different. The scene goes up, slowly but surely. »

Makis Giakoumatos — Abbey Kitchen Bar — Patras (Peloponnese) 
« Before I opened the bar I was working in sales for global companies but I had a strong link with the hospitality industry because my father had a coffee shop, it was a family business and we worked there. And as a student, of course, I worked a lot inside and outside of the bar. 
I noticed a problem in my city: there was not a single bar with a fine drinking focus and it was a big issue. I felt that there was a business opportunity and I was right. It was clear for me: this is the problem, this is what I want to do, this is what I have to do. I opened Abbey Kitchen Bar in November 2012. A lot of people made the same diagnostic during the crisis. It’s something that’s familiar for Greek people and around 2010-2011 people began to do something different with drinks. In Athens things are better, but in a smaller town like Patras it’s a little bit more difficult.
At Abbey, we focus on good, tasteful cocktails — that’s what drives us. As the name implies, there’s also a small restaurant area. I also opened a nightclub where the focus is less on the drinks — although we also have good cocktails — as, well, it’s a club. Our goal was to play good, global dance music that you couldn’t find in our city. I also have a restaurant, focus on more traditional food.
We have succeeded to train people to drink better drinks, to taste new things, to think about the glasses, the ice… People didn’t think about that 5 or 7 years ago. Now, people are trying to copy our good work, in a good way or a bad way. Some people try to follow us in their on way and that’s good. Other try just to imitate us, they forget about people and service — it’s all about the money for them. And that’s bad. There’s a lot of love and a lot of sacrifices in what we do. It’s not just having a good bartender and that’s it. 
In Greece, you have to think about the political and economical environment, about the local circumstances — your town — and yourself. The politics and the economy are still complicated, so you need to think about it and to be very careful. Be clever. But if you love your job you will find ways to become a good professional and to make it work. » 

Makis and Mihalis spoke with François Monti