A decade ago, I remember sitting at the bar at the legendary Bar Guru Bar, enjoying cocktail after cocktail concocted by Michalis Menegos—the bartender who introduced the art of fine drinking to Athens and made a name for himself worldwide. Back then, Athens didn’t have much of a cocktail culture. But when Thanos Prunarus opened Baba Au Rum and Christos Houseas opened 42 in 2009, all of a sudden, Athenian drinkers discovered artisan spirits, premium liqueurs, and house-made bitters.
And so it all began. Cool, cutting-edge cocktail bars sprung up in the center of Athens on Kolokotroni Street, Agia Irini Square, and the tangle of streets below Syntagma Square. A new generation of bartenders emerged, who saw mixology as a serious profession. Bartending schools opened, cocktail contests were organised, and Athenian twenty-somethings started ordering kimchi cocktails and barrel-aged Negronis—a stark contrast to the Kamikazes and Screwdrivers of generations past.
Athens has always had a roaring nightlife, but today the city takes the art of making cocktails very seriously indeed. Athens is home to one of Europe’s most creative bartender communities, increasingly earning global accolades and even giving cities like New York and London a run for their money. Yes, there’s a new international mindset. But it’s also down to a fresh confidence about weaving local identity into menus (many bartenders now work with native herbs and elixirs.
“The Athens bar scene has come to be considered one of the most emerging in the world,” says Simon Difford, the man behind the international drinks bible, Difford’s Guide for Discerning Drinkers. “The Greeks are very hospitable by nature, so you’ll feel at home the moment you pull up a stool at the bar.”
It’s not just the quality of Athens’ bars that has visitors to the city raving about the singular nightlife. It’s more about a life philosophy that puts a high priority on having a good time and living for the moment. In Athens, you’re made to feel welcome wherever you go—from the dodgiest dive bar to the hippest hangout or all-time classic bar. The action is all mostly within walking distance. And you can stay out as late as you like (please do, you’re in Athens) and still feel safe.
If you’re in Athens for a short time, the two star bars you can’t miss are The Clumsies and Baba au Rum. Together, they’ve shaken (not stirred) Athens’ reputation on the international cocktail circuit. (The Clumsies ranked 19th in the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2022, and Baba au Rum is at number 20).
The Athens bar scene has one more ace up its sleeve: the red-hot rooftop bars. You’ll find these crowning glories everywhere from grungy arcades to five-star hotels; all of them with viewing rights to one of the world’s most famous landmarks. Where else but Athens can you enjoy a heady cocktail while drinking in the Acropolis?