The Other Athens
If last week we shed some light on the Greek cocktail scene beyond Athens, this week we turn our attention to the capital and look beyond the bars that have gained international plaudits. Everyone knows about The Clumsies and Baba au Rum — their performances on lists such as the World’s 50 Best Bars have been extremely important. But if Athens boasts such a dynamic, captivating cocktail scene it’s because of all the other entrepreneurs that are shaping it — and some have been at it for a long, long time. So this week, we turn to two persons who have, between them, more than 45 years of industry experience.
Achilleas Poulimenos — Kokkinos Lotos — Athens
« I started in 1999 in a rock bar. In 2007 I went to work at a tiki bar, called Tiki Athens. I ended up owning it. It was the first tiki bar in Athens and Greece. We didn’t have much information about tiki culture but year after year, I kept learning and found my way. People started making good cocktails ten years ago. The evolution started around 2006 / 2007. And now, Greek cocktail culture is fantastic. The Athens Bar Show had a huge effect. I worked at the first one and did that for six years. Everybody from all around Greece come to see the new stuff and learn. It’s very important.
Greek people love going out and during the crisis they drank cocktails because they wanted to forget. It’s strange to say but the crisis wasn’t a problem for me: I actually had more people in my bar. Everybody wanted to drink, you know.
I sold Tiki Athens and then I opened Kokkinos Lotos (Red Lotus) in 2013. I still work behind the bar. The place is very popular. I want funky music and funky cocktails. The music is loud, everybody dances — I don’t exactly have a dance floor but it’s a bit as if I had one. As for the drinks, well, tiki cocktails are funky. We make the classics and then my recipes, all with fresh fruits. After all those years, people still don’t really understand tiki here but when they see the tiki mugs we buy in the US, the flowers or the colors, the decide to take a risk and taste them — if not they would drink rum and coke or things like that.
I don’t know what the bar scene will look like in 5 years time. There are so many bar opening… The thing is that a couple of years ago, customers didn’t know anything about cocktails. But now, some of them do, they are aware of what they drink. So if the pros do a good job, people will come. And Greece has great professionals. Better than anywhere. »
Armelina Atonaropoulou — 7 Jokers & Juan Rodriguez Bar — Athens
« I’ve worked in this industry for 26 years, I started while I was studying economics and from the first day I thought ‘this is the job for me’. When I turned 28 I opened my first business — an Italian restaurant. After that I opened a lot of places — I left one, sold my shares and opened a new one, and so on and so forth. Cocktails bars back then were very simple, with Caipirinhas, Daiquiris, Mojitos. Then came Guru, the first modern cocktail bar. It was followed by Baba au Rum, where Thanos Prunarus started the new wave. The Athens Bar Show is very important, especially for people from outside Athens. There are are great bars everywhere — you go to a small town and will see a terrific bar — but outside of the capital, new products are not as easily available for bartenders to taste. Also, it’s like a festival for us.
In all my bars, classics are the basis. You need to know how to make them, and then have perfect simple serves for the gin & tonic. Only then you can have a small list of signature drinks. I opened 7 Jokers 14 years ago. Back then, very few bars in Athens offered different spirits. We were also among the first to use greek products. 7 jokers is also the bar of bartenders because we’re open after other places close — they can come and have a perfect Manhattan at 4 am. It’s a family place, where we also serve the perfect Guinness…
Juan Rodriguez Bar, my new place, is very different from everything in Athens right now. It’s like a small club, open almost all day. You don’t go there for serious conversation — we have loud music. Its the way we like it in Greece; it’s our mentality… Bars can’t just be about drinks. They need to be fun. We want to be out, and during the crisis, people needed that. They didn’t want to be looking at the news all day long. They wanted to be with other people. And they didn’t want vodka with orange juice, they wanted something different. Now, they’re more informed about cocktails.
For people starting in the business now, I’d say it’s very important that they keep informed: things go very fast and you need to keep in touch with what’s happening all over the world, with the trends… But above all, never forget that we serve other people. We need to be happy and polite. That’s why people come to us: we provide a sort of social network. »