A for Athens: A pre-eminently savvy bar

February 27, 2013
Quite a few bars in Athens offer such an amazing view. But I don’t know of many in such close proximity to the Acropolis, where the city appears to sparkle so bright right at your feet.

But in any case, this was the thinking behind A for Athens: to offer the city on a plate, to attract foreigners, Greeks, passers-by or downtown regulars, in fact just about anyone wishing to relax and enjoy the wonder that is Athens.

You get to Monastiraki and look for the hotel where the sign on the door reads “welcome”, intriguingly written in a font reminiscent of a primary school storybook. You wait for the lift (sometimes a fair while, since it takes only three people at a time) and ascend to the 6th floor where the bar is located.

A bar that is “swallowed” by its own view. A bar which from the day it opened, roughly 2½ years ago, accomplished something quite notable, namely that it in no way resembles a hotel bar. There is nothing contrived about it and it is equally welcoming at any time of day.

Then logic kicks in… what do you expect to find at such a bar? Well, precisely what you do find: people, lots of people who have come for after-office relaxation. Couples out on their first date. Girls meeting up for the latest gossip. Groups of friends laughing out loud. Accompanying radio-style music, played at a volume intended to enhance the mood, which in the space of five minutes can switch from pop to latin without any warning. 

What else? Why drinks of course. The wide range of brands easily satisfies most preferences, whilst the cocktails appear to go out of their way to reject anything “mainstream” but are at the same time almost “suppressed”, so as to appeal equally to the venue’s mixed crowd. What does this mean? Quite simply that in A for Athens’ extensive, distinctly categorized and informative drinks menu, head bartender Thodoris Pirillos really wanted to show that he knows, to register his passion for spirits and mixes, to join that informal group of the “very good” through his own liquid creations.

But Thodoris has no conceit. He knows who he is and it’s refreshing that this is evident in his drinks list. Though with so many “urban legends” of bartending just a stone’s throw away, it would in any case be difficult for him to adopt a different approach. The menu features eight choices of house cocktails, among which the eye is immediately attracted to the first, the “A for Athens”, whose ingredients include mastic and rose water. I liked the fact it was first on the list. It prompted me to eagerly go through the menu looking for Greek ingredients in the cocktails, but to no avail. And I don’t know why. You have a bar called “Athens”. One that “offers” Athens. Which is a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. So why not also serve Greece and stand apart from your “neighbours” whilst at the same time motivating us to strongly recommend you? 

Anyway, the menu is still in front of us. It reveals a particular preference for rum, with 20 different options, but it is also fond of tequila, with 15 labels to choose from. Due attention has also been given to whisky, in both its malt and bourbon versions, but vodka is less favoured – which to some extent I understand – but gin too, which I can’t explain. As for the cocktails, apart from the house options there are also classics, a “subcategory” of great importance in terms of both content and history, which here however is mixed up with tikis and this is a little disconcerting. Why place a Zombie alongside a Negroni?Possibly because they are both “old”. Or perhaps because the bar’s patrons have no reason to know or understand anything beyond that.

Thodoris and his team, Panagiotis Theofanis (Dos Agaves), long-time associate Mike Kougianos and “newly arrived” Othonas Metaxas, simply adoretiki cocktails. They love the optimism and sense of permanent summer these drinks offer and they feature prominently on the menu. But so too do the “mainstream” cocktails, which I would never describe as outdated. Here, for example, we may drink an Apple Martini but its vodka will be flavoured with apples, pears, cinnamon and cloves, elements which render it anything but “mainstream”. Similarly, you will find Pina Colada but you will also find Tequila Sunrise. In a word, you will find well prepared (and ultimately this is what matters) cocktails that do not rely on impressive recipes, quite simply because they don’t need to.

A for Athens is a pre-eminently savvy bar. It knows not only its intended crowd but also the doubters it must win over. It knows its potential but also that it is still in its infancy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the bar team comes up with some intoxicating little miracles in the coming years. Nor would it surprise me if the place takes off very quickly. For, without being able to explain why, my impression from this particular bar is that it knows where it stands and what exactly it is. It knows it has knowledge, but also that it must develop this. It knows it’s a good bar, but also that it will not be easy to become the favourite haunt of an ardent spirit lover. But at least it knows, and that’s half the battle.

Thodoris Pirillos has already made it into the second round of the World Classqualifiers with his Mole de Platano, containing Zacapa rum with butter in which banana has first been fried. From time to time he also organises theme parties, at which leading bartenders of global stature introduce their own cocktailsto the Greek public. What I want to say is that… he’s getting down to business. He’s developing things, working hard and constantly striving. Something tells me it won’t be long before he finds exactly what he’s looking for.

And something tells me we will soon see the full “package” served at A for Athens, a pre-eminently savvy bar.

2-4 Miaouli St., Monastiraki, tel. 210 3244244

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