The last time the Beachbum hit Athens was so long ago that … well, let’s just say he panhandled not for euros but drachmas. Recently he returned to the city to find it in financial straits even worse than his own, but you wouldn’t know Athens was depressed if all you did was go to the local bars. Which, of course, is all we did.
After such a long absence we were in need of tippling tour guidance, which Mixellany publishers Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller stepped up to provide. Like the Bum they were in town for the Athens Bar Show, an intimate event more focused than most of its kind, with an emphasis on local products (the most interesting were Mastic, a liqueur rendered from the resin of a Mediterranean shrub, and a vanilla-fig bitters by Stelios Magoulas of the Hellas Bar Academy).
The first stop on Anistatia and Jared’s itinerary was A For Athens, located on the sixth floor of a hotel off Monastiraki Square. Two things took us by surprise. First was the eye-level view of the nearby Acropolis, quite simply the most spectacular thing we’ve ever seen from a bar stool (the vista is even more impressive from the open-air roof deck one flight up; seek the unmarked staircase half-hidden to the left of the bar). Second was the cocktail menu, which contained a healthy selection of Tiki drinks: a Cou-Cou Comber from Sippin’ Safari, a classic Mai Tai mixed with Appleton Extra and Rhum St. James, and original exotics expertly mixed by barman Thodorus Pirillos (pictured above; photo by Jared). We particularly enjoyed his Passion Caramel (gold Puerto Rican rum teased with passion fruit and butterscotch) and Mole de Platano #2 (Zacapa Centenario fat-washed with banana butter, then thrown Cuban-style with sherry and mole bitters). A work-in-progress house mix by Thodorus (ginger syrup, pear brandy and brown sugar) was delectable in and of itself.
Across the square from A For Athens stands its new sister bar, 360, so named for the panoramic terrace view that puts you one block closer to the Acropolis — and closer still to the Grecian tiki revival. Owner George Gaitanidis has five drinks from the Beachbum Berry books on his menu, served in Tiki mugs hand-made especially for 360 by a Greek artisan in Thessalonika. George reckons he’ll be throwing a lot more business that artisan’s way: “By May we expect to be serving 2,000 cocktails a day,” he told us, “since 1,500 for A For Athens is the average.”
We found still more Tiki at Baba au Rum. On the walls: Framed Trader Vic cocktail menus and pages from Sven Kirsten’s Book of Tiki. On the menu: a full complement of old and new Tiki drinks, from Scorpion Bowls and Zombies to original Baba au Rum riffs like the Ray Barrientos Daiquiri, named after a 1950s Beverly Hills Luau bartender and incorporating the Luau’s secret “Spices #4.” (How’s that for obscure?)
Even so, Baba au Rum is not a full-tilt Tiki bar. Gilded Age and Prohibition-era cocktails also take up a lot of real estate on the menu, and the decor is postwar Paris bohemian boîte, with live jazz to match. The night of our visit, a six piece ensemble called Black Cat Society (pictured above) monopolized almost all the floor space, but rewarded the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with virtuoso Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and even James Brown numbers. “I Feel Good,” the keyboardist announced before launching into Brown’s signature anthem. “This is a rum bar. And when we drink rum, we feel good!”
It was impossible to feel otherwise after a rum Manhattan and rum Old-Fashioned, both enlivened with house-made spice tinctures. When we asked owner Thanos Prunarus who came up with these formulae, he replied that “the drinks are a team effort,” citing as his collaborators Baba au Rum bartenders Konstantinos Stefanakis and Vagelis Zachos, and even their barback Tazul. To this list we’d add Thanos’s co-host Katerina Kastana, whose warm welcome made every drink taste just a little bit better.