Two months ago, The Clumsies was named by World’s 50 Best Bars as the 7th best bar in the world. This was the third time in a row it appeared in the top 10, an amazing feat for a bar outside New York or London. Lelos Georgopoulos is one of the persons who made this possible. He is not a bartender and defines himself as someone who loves seeing people start as bartenders and become bar superstars or bar owners. Today, he owns with his partners four of the most successful bars in Athens.
Lelos’ rise has been nothing short of meteoric. His bar career started as a PR person — you know, the nice, smiling guy who make sure people go to a certain bar. He must have been good at it because he received a 10% interest in the place he was working at, and he leveraged this to raise some money to open Theory Bar with a childhood friend — an architect with an eye for bar design. « I told him I had the money, but I really didn’t have enough. I believed so much in the project and I thought it was the moment ». (A third partner later joined them). Theory Bar, as it came to be called, is located in Chalandri, 9 kilometres from Athens centre. « The three of us, we grew up in this area, we went to school and still live there », Lelos explained. Six years on, the place is a real money maker. And local knowledge might have helped, as the bar was an instant success: « We opened on a Wednesday, and on our second Saturday, we hosted 600 people. It was like a dream, and we’re still living that dream! ».
When Theory Bar launched, places such as Baba au Rum, The Gin Joint or 42 had kickstarted the cocktail trend and Lelos looked up to them. But they stuck to cocktail bars regular hours, opening on the evening and, in most cases, not serving food. Although Theory had a cocktail focus from the minute it opened, it’s also an all-day operation, serving breakfast and brunch, a template that Lelos’ other bars would follow. « I believe cocktail bars can be the new generation’s version of the old style Greek cafés, where people used to go in the morning, well dressed, for coffee. Then, they’d stay and play cards. After lunch with the family, they’d come back in the evening to have beer or local spirits. All day bars are an important part of Greek identity ».
With the money set aside thanks to Theory, Lelos and his partners soon wanted to launch a second place: « We wanted to open a global bar, in the centre of Athens. Our dream was that it would become a destination for tourists and also make a lot of noise outside of Greece ». Through a cocktail catering operation he set up shortly after Theory Bar’s opening, Lelos had met Vasilis Kyritsis and Nikos Bakoulis, who bartended at the time at The Gin Joint. They were offered shares in the new project. « At the first meeting, they asked us if we wanted to be on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Who doesn’t really? » With that ambition in mind, the team (or family, as Lelos likes to call it) launched The Clumsies in a (very) big house a few minutes walk from Baba au Rum or The Gin Joint. « It was the first big bar in Athens. I believe in big spaces. People love them, they can stay from day until night, they can have a cocktail with the girlfriend in the patio or stay in the bar area and dance… »
The Clumsies — and many other cocktail bars in Athens — opened in the middle of a devastating economic crisis. The Greek cocktail boom has left many observers scratching their heads. For Lelos, part of the explanation is that the crisis made people more conscious of what they were spending their money on. « People would spend a lot of money on whiskey coke or vodka red bull. 35 euros for three drinks. All of a sudden, they couldn’t afford it anymore. Now, they spend 20 euros, but they want to make sure it’s money well spent. It’s not a whisky coke, it’s two amazing cocktails. It’s not 4 or 5 beers, it’s 2 beers from an excellent microbrewery. That helped us a lot because we have something different to offer, with unique flavours ».
Although they’ve reached their goal of turning their bar into a global force, there’s really no rest for the wicked as far as Lelos is concerned. « Until recently, all places were identical, the same designs, the same drinks… I understood really fast that if you wanted to invest in a lot of places, you had to have unique concepts and offer different experiences ». As a Negroni lover, Lelos presented his partners with the idea to open a place focused on vermouth. They teamed up with bartender Manolis Lykiardopoulos for Odori. « A vermouth bar? People were very sceptical. Now, it’s one of Athens most successful bar ». Lelos hopes to repeat the same feat with Senios, a bar and restaurant that strikes a little bit closer to home. « We are a global brand and for us it was very important to have a Greek concept », Lelos told us. « In Greek, ‘Senios’ is what we call a gentleman who dresses well and goes out with a flower in his buttonhole — the flower is for the girl he’ll end up flirting with ». Both food and wine focus on local culture, but the most striking thing about the establishment are the barrels above the bar, where cocktails and Greek spirits are rested to make peculiar, unique serves.
Bars, as should be obvious by now, are not only made by bartenders. They are also made by the people who believe in them. « My job is to support these people. I love that part », said Lelos. Now, that’s the last we have from him here. It’s most probably not the last you’ll hear from him. Since we talked in early November, Lelos and team have opened another bar, Frater & Soror. This time, it’s all about gin.