It’s a chicken-and-egg-situation: Was it the demand for original cocktails served in a sophisticated cosmopolitan setting or the emergence of a new generation of bartenders and mixologists that planted the seeds for Athens’ new bar scene? It really doesn’t matter what came first, because Greeks have always been fans of going out a lot, trying different bars depending on the mood they’re in.
And odd as it may sound, the start of the economic crisis about six years ago also signaled an important shift in the Athens nightlife scene as young people started looking for professional prospects on the other side of the bar. Within just a few years, the city center was packed with new establishments: cocktail bars, bars that stay open until dawn or start the day early, bars that specialize in wine, bars with amazing city and Acropolis views, bars taking over closed shops in small arcades and bars spreading out across the city’s rooftops.
Most of these new entrepreneurs invested heavily in their businesses, going to great pains to stock a collection of high-end spirits, spending those extra euros on premium ingredients, putting great thought into their menus and coming up with exciting new cocktails. There is, however, a potential downside: the majority of Greeks consider it unthinkable not to smoke when they’re drinking, so the anti-smoking law is enforced only in a handful of establishments.
“Greeks have always been fans of going out a lot, trying different bars depending on the mood they’re in.”
THE AWARD WINNERS
Athens has world-class bars and the first to win the distinction of ranking among the World’s 50 Best Bars is Baba Au Rum, which, as its name suggests, specializes in rum and has an extremely high-quality and comprehensive collection of labels. Styled like a tiki bar, it plays good music, respects non-smokers and serves excellent Zombies as well as Mai Tais with 18-year-old rum.
The second bar to earn international kudos is The Clumsies, which came ninth in the rankings within just two years of opening. The team does great things behind the bar and in the small workshop that they have set up to create cocktails using, among other things, fermented extracts, flavored tobacco, liquid nitrogen and xylitol. Innovation in a glass!
42 bar is a domestic award winner. Every new menu introduction becomes the talk of the town, as the mixologists prepare dazzling concoctions behind its majestic wooden bar. The name “42” was inspired by Douglas Adams’ fantasy novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the number 42 is said to be the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” If you enjoy the classics, order a Negroni. But if you’d like to try something different, the Ultima Forsan is made with kimchi, strawberries, Manzanilla sherry, tomato and basil, a wonderful twist of Bloody Mary. Please note that smoking here is strictly forbidden indoors.
7 Voulis, Syntagma,
• Tel. (+30) 210.321.9225
9 Kolokotroni, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.323.2795
3 Kolokotroni, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 213.005.2153
56 Ploutarchou, Kolonaki
• Tel. (+30) 210.723.1424
1 Vassileos Georgiou
(Grande Bretagne Hotel), Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.333.0000
(officially 28th Oktovriou), Kypseli
• Tel. (+30) 210.823.0474
BABA AU RUM
6 Klitiou, Monastiraki|
• Tel. (+30) 211.710.9140
THE COCKTAIL BARS
It’s always Christmas at Noel, which has adopted the year’s biggest holiday as its theme, with retro furniture, and a mix of art nouveau and baroque styles. It’s a popular place, so get there early if you want a table. There’s a separate, non-smoking room called Noel Blue, where gold décor and a stunning ceiling are style highlights. From the cocktail menu, we suggest the long drink made with whisky, chestnut liqueur, tonic and bitters. If you’re looking for somewhere less fancy, just down the road is 9, a low-profile bar with surrealist decorative details, a decent library and a menu that includes five “Perfect Gin & Tonics” for fans of bitter herby drinks. Tucked away in an arcade off Syntagma Square and sporting baroque details, Trap is a new bar that works as a bistro in the morning and is perfect for a light meal or snack from its international menu, or after-work drinks. The list comprises classic tipples with a twist; we recommend the Cascara Spritz, a refreshing aperitif made in-house with the outer shells of coffee beans.
Affectedly old-hat, 7 Jokers is the go-to place for the casual party crowd. Crowded, smoky, fashion-unconscious, with an eccentric musical selection and open from the evening on, it has been a popular after-hours watering hole for the last decade.
7 Voulis, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.325.4711
30 Praxitelous, Monastiraki
• Tel. (+30) 210.323.2682
7 Hadziyianni Mexi, Ilissia
• Tel. (+30) 210.723.1767
10 Stadiou (in the arcade), Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.322.7733
THE EXPLORER’S BAR
NJV Athens Plaza, 2 Vassileos Georgiou
• Tel. (+30) 210 3352400
THE GIN JOINT
1 Christou Lada, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.321.8646
The Gin Joint is Athens’ only specialized gin bar and it more than lives up to its name: it has hundreds of carefully selected brands and extremely knowledgeable staff who provide such valuable tips as which tonic is naturally sparkling, why you should choose a New Western Dry instead of a London Dry gin or where the best juniper berries come from. This is not the place to get an ordinary G&T; just the best one you’ve probably ever tasted.
Athens’ second specialized rum bar is Rehab, a lively joint with loud music, an LA vibe, a big tank filled with exotic fish, colorful wallpaper, lots of marble, and gold brushstrokes here and there. It serves some of the best rums in the world, used in clever combinations. Try the Cascadeur, made with 11 ingredients, including smoked whisky, sherry and aged vermouth. Over at Barreldier, the proud Italian bartender, Mario Basso, master of vermouth, makes his own, aged in small wooden barrels above the bar, while Odori, Athens’ first vermuteria serves full-bodied, spicy or lighter vermouths and signature blends in a space that resembles a botanical garden. Enjoy an aperitif with some Italian food.
“The city center is packed with new establishments: cocktail bars, bars that stay open until dawn or start the day early, bars that specialize in wine, and rooftop and penthouse bars with amazing views.”
7 Voulis (inside the arcade),
• Tel. (+30) 213.035.2114
59B Kolokotroni, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 211.215.9534
2 Skouleniou, Psyrri
• Tel. (+30) 210.331.4674
16 Thiseos, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.321.1434
10 Othonos, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.321.5561
THE CLASSIC BARS
Alexander’s is a classic elegant whisky bar in the Grande Bretagne Hotel boasting a huge selection of liquors, mainly whiskies and brandies. Upstairs is a special lounge where you can enjoy a selection of cigars along with your drink. Down the road and next to the Hilton Hotel, CV Distiller is a modern, no-smoking whisky bar where you can sample an excellent selection of premium labels as well as whisky-based cocktails, either at the long wooden bar with shelves of sparkling bottles or in the private basement cellar where the real gems are stored. If you prefer bourbon or Irish whiskeys with your blues and soul, old-school Low Profile is tucked away in an arcade on Voulis Street and stocks 100 different labels.
On the first floor of the NJV Athens Plaza you will find the Explorer’s Bar. At this British-style establishment with seriously elegant ambiance and a menu full of time-honored drinks, you might have once expected to meet Ernest Hemingway, Harold Pinter or T.S. Eliot lounging nearby on a green leather Chesterfield sofa. Today, you can make your own history here. Every Friday and Saturday until February the bar hosts live jazz performances.
THE CULT WATERING HOLES
Before modern booze temples began mushrooming in the city center, Athens nightlife was centered on bars whose character was shaped as much by their regulars as by their owners. Many of these have been left untouched by time.
One of these cult classics is Au Revoir, around since 1957. Designed by the noted Greek architect Aristomenis Provelengios, who worked in Le Corbusier’s firm after World War II, the bar is a model of genteel decline, maintaining its sheen of glamor from the 1960s, when it was a hangout for actors and artists. The no-fuss drinks include a couple of good whiskies and cognacs and are always served with the mixer on the side – as is right and proper.
In the Syntagma area, follow the direction that Greek War of Independence hero Theodoros Kolokotronis is pointing to from his horse outside the Old Parliament building to find Galaxy and its tireless owner, Yiannis, bartending here since 1970. This place is a classic, with hundreds of newspaper clippings and photographs on the walls. You know it’s a drinker’s paradise from the cushion-edged bar, designed to rest your arms as you nurse a simple drink and nibble on sides like cheese with mustard, olives or a bit of toast.
In Kolonaki, 56 is a basement bar located at the top of Ploutarchou Street, where the music is jazz, the décor is retro and Christmas lights twinkle all year round. The bar carries many hard-to-find malts, served without a measure, and the owner, who fancies himself as something of a philosopher, is always happy to swap tales with patrons. He’ll usually tempt you to stay a bit longer by buying the last drink.
“Wine bars have been instrumental in teaching Greeks about different wine varieties and drinking trends.”
THE WINE BARS
Wine bars have been instrumental in teaching Greeks about different wine varieties and drinking trends. Most are non-smoking, as cigarette smoke tends to kill the finer notes of better vintages. Ηeteroclito, styled as a Parisian bar, is known for its experimental wines and wines from small-scale, obscure Greek producers, served with snacks inspired by local cuisine.
Oinoscent is also popular, especially among the 30-somethings, and changes the menu about twice a month in order to showcase new wine selections from around the world, picked for quality and unique flavor profiles. The comprehensive cellar stocks more than 700 labels, while you can also attend wine-tasting sessions. By the Glass serves 60 labels by the glass and, thanks to Coravin technology, also allows samplings of another 150 vintage and rare wines. Its greatest asset is a collection of excellent vintages.
BY THE GLASS
3 Souri (Ralli Arcade), Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.323.2560
2 Fokionos, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.323.9406
45-47 Voulis, Syntagma
• Tel. (+30) 210.322.9374