Athens' best cocktail bars are winning global acclaim by weaving Greek spirits and local ingredients into heady drinks that could only be made in Greece.

By Denny Kallivoka

My epiphany came in March 2016 as I sipped on a single-variety tsipouroGreece’s answer to grappa. While I wrote endlessly about spirits from all over the world, I realised that I knew little about my own country’s two most famous drinks: ouzo and tsipouro.

It struck me as both strange and sad that so few of us in the beverage business had ever wondered why Greek spirits did not feature in the thrilling Greek bar scene. Even the top tier bars made little or no reference to Greek ingredients on their menus. And yet. Our Greek spirits come with a designation of origin. They have historic roots (tsipouro, it’s said, was invented by 14th century monks on Mount Athos). They’re made by small producers, often family businesses. Perhaps we all believed that Greek spirits were only for beach barbeques and tavernas. Something our grandparents drank in village squares as an accompaniment to meze.

This realisation led to the creation of Aegean Cocktails & Spirits, an annual festival that champions diversification, terroir and small production in the Greek drinks market. Today, Greek spirits still speak of cherished traditions. But with creative Greek bartenders now embracing our local elixirs, they’re also a must-have ingredient for the city’s tastemakers.

Here are some of my favourite places to taste Greece in a glass in Athens.

Courtesy: The Gin Joint

The Bar: The Gin Joint

The Drink: Mingler & Bubbly

The Bar: Senios

The Drink: Milk Punch, Bees Knees, Old Fashioned, Greekified Mule

Courtesy: Senios

The Bar: A for Athens

The Drink: Sirens, Circe’s Potion, The Old Square

If I were a visitor to Athens, sitting at a rooftop bar, sipping on a drink inspired by the Odyssey while gazing at the Acropolis, I’m sure I would consider it the experience of a lifetime. At A for Athens, bar manager Thodoris Pyrillos has based his lyrical drinks menu on Homer’s epic. Try Sirens, made with local Otto's vermouth, mezcal, tsipouro and maraschino syrup. Or Circe’s Potion containing spiced rum, 12-year-old Scotch whisky, Metaxa, pineapple and lemon juice, and Vinsanto. Or order The Old Squarean off-menu insider secret. With cognac, bourbon, Vinsanto from Santorini, Amaro Averna and mastihaa spirit made from the resin of gum trees that grow on Chios islandit’s the perfect after-dinner drink.

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

The Bar: Clumsies

The Drink: Mediterranean Gimlet, Aegean Negroni

The Bar: Frater & Soror

The Drink: Ratatouille Date Party

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

The Bar: Upupa Epops

The Drink: Sour Delight, Graceful Greek, Gluhwein (Greek style)

At upbeat Upupa Epopsnamed for those bright birds with the distinctive crownsMarfi Bali and her team blitz and blend a joyful medley of traditional spirits and aromatic syrups, mastiha, house-made liqueurs, citrus fruits and vegetables into an intoxicating Mediterranean menu. Solid bets are the Sour Delight with aged tsipouro, passion fruit, coconut flakes and limoncello; or the Graceful Greeka heady brew of gin, olives, mint, mastiha, cucumber and Greek tonic. A perfect winter warmer is their Greek-styled Gluhwein, a high-octane concoction of red wine, carob, cherry liqueur, nutmeg, Metaxa brandy, mastiha, vermouth flavored with seaweed, citrus, gin, and basil.

The Bar: Odori Vermuteria Di Atene

The Drink: Smellscapes Negroni

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

The Bar: Ipitou

The Drink: Story, Grandmama’s Trick

The Bar: Mai Tai

The Drink: Otto’s Collins, Lord Greek Martini

Courtesy: Mai Tai

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

The Bar: Theory Bar & More

The Drink: Morgana