Rise of the Grecian bar empire

In the 2021 World’s 50 Best Bars list, Athens claimed as many bars as Tokyo and Milan, and more than Paris, Madrid, and Seoul. For anyone who has kept an eye on global bar lists, this will come as no surprise, but the Greek capital’s rapid ascension to hospitality powerhouse has been remarkable.

It’s the concentration of its nightlife that makes Athens such a phenomenal cocktail destination. The dual stars in its crown, Baba au Rum and The Clumsies, are just 200m apart, while Barro Negro – which made the 2021 World’s 50 Best Bars 51-100 list – is located between the two. Vermouth bar Odori is a stone’s throw from The Clumsies, Noel is two minutes from Baba au Rum and five minutes from the pop-up Bar in Front of the Bar, itself a two-minute walk to industry haunts The 7 Jokers and The Bank Job – it’s possible to be treated to one of the world’s  nest bar crawls without breaking a sweat.

Athens’ nightlife, scattered around the city’s Commercial Triangle, has undergone a radical makeover in the past decade. Its first contemporary cocktail bar, Au Revoir, opened in 1958, but this modern scene has its roots in the 1990s.

“In the 1990s you could find a decent cocktail in many places around Athens,” says Thanos Prunarus, the founder of Baba au Rum. “Then around the year 2000, there was a bar that I used to work at with Michael Menegos [former global brand ambassador for Havana Club], Bar Guru Bar, where you can say that we were doing something special.” 

But it was in the creation of Baba au Rum in 2009 that Prunarus gave the city a venue with a laser focus on cocktails.

“When we opened, I wanted to be a place that explores the story and culture of drinks and bring it to the people. Back then, when you opened a new bar, people’s first question was always ‘what music?’ and we love music, but it wasn’t about music, it was about the drinks. Then two years later, other bars started to open.”

These new bars were being created by an open-minded and experimental generation of young bartenders, inspired by the likes of Prunarus and Menegos, among them two Diageo World Class Greece winners Vasilis Kyritsis and Nikos Bakoulis, who opened The Clumsies in 2014 with a desire to showcase Greek hospitality to the world.

“The way people hang out in bars in Greece is specific, it’s about fun,” says Bakoulis. “We wanted the bar to be fun, to respect our locals but at the same time, if someone travels from London to Athens, they don’t want a bar making drinks like Connaught Bar, they want something with Greek identity.”

“Greek people love all-day bars,” adds Kyritsis. “So our goal was to create an all-day bar with the highest standards.”

And these standards are obsessively pursued – R&D for new menus at The Clumsies can last eight months – but ultimately the secret behind what makes Athens’ bars so good is that they are reflections of their country. “We don’t do anything crazy to our drinks, we just use ingredients from the Greek soil, that’s what makes them so delicious,” says Bakoulis. “The food culture that we have, and the freshness of our ingredients, that’s what designs the drinks.”

“If you want to impress people,” says Kyristis. “Then you have to do something different. For me, different is something that’s local and unique to a country, that’s what impresses me.”