Ten days in Greece – seven spent visiting the best bars in Athens and Thessaloniki – of course we were going to come away with some opinions. Well, we were there to judge the first burst of World Class Greece, if we didn’t have something to say we wouldn’t have been doing our job properly.
So, what did we think of the experience overall? First and foremost, this part of the world rocks. That goes for the bartenders as well as its vast selection of bars. Yes, coffee draws in the crowds early in the day but when the caffeine well and truly kicks in, its time for serious drinks. And boy, are cocktail lovers spoiled for choice.
Top: Young and confident, Kostas Xatziavas; above: The table is set for Manolis Lykiardopoulos’ serve
We thought we knew something about the scene here but this particular mission taught us a lot. We visited old haunts like Baba Au Rum (still one of our favourites in the world), 9 and The Gin Joint (another hot spot), and became acquainted with other must-visit gems like The Dalliance House, 42, the soon-to-be-opened, very exciting The Clumsies – all in Athens, and Vogatsikou 3 in Thessaloniki. Both cities are into their bars big time – look out for our guide coming soon.
Above: Four seasons, one drink from Dimitris DMag Manglaris
Does Greece have what it takes to kick ass in the World Class Global Finals? You bet your booty it does. Of the 43 bartenders we were fortunate enough to meet there was enough originality, creativity, flair and showmanship on display to verify that the bartenders here want to bring the title back home in a big style. And who knows? When the competition takes place in Cape Town next year, one just might…
Here’s where the World Class Fundamentals of Flavour challenge came into play. Given the brief, we weren’t sure what to expect – but we were delighted with what we were presented with.
Nikos Bakoulis in dramatic mode
Blindfolds to kick the senses into play; musical instruments to perfectly evoke the sounds of the sea; films and videos carefully edited to take us to another time, place and emotion, and cryptic messages fed to us via phone and tape – these were just a few of the ways our bartenders chose to express their drinks and serves. We walked through clouds of smoke; were spirited away to Speyside; watched enthralled as a Zacapa rum cocktail was created against a Willy Wonka-esque waterfall in a chocolate factory; sat with our feet squelching in mud in a recreation of a beetroot farm (wellington boots were thoughtfully provided); witnessed a presentation from an Avatar alien (okay, not an actual alien but a bartender made-up in blue), and were led into a winter wonderland complete with snow.
Simple, stylish, elegant, Dimitris Polyvios Gouzios
In truth, we could have easily put at least ten people through but rules are rules and we could only pick six. Beyond the official criteria (technique, presentation, creativity, taste and balance, comprehension of the challenge blah, blah, blah), what did we look for? Charisma for starters – if there’s one thing all previous World Class winners have in common, it’s charisma. We also looked for engagement – who’s story did we really believe? Who thought about every intricate detail of their serve and brought it to life for the competition? Then we had to consider who we thought could take it on to the next level. Was this a one-off? Could they deliver the goods again? Would they be phased with on-the-spot challenges?
Playing with the senses, Stefanos Draganidakis
Confidence was key but we were looking for that quiet self-assuredness – confidence is one thing, arrogance is something different entirely. And let’s not forget the drinks. Never mind how captivating the stories, or how elaborate the serves, the bottom line is we were looking for a bloody good drink. One where the spirit in the glass was the star of the show and the other ingredients were the supporting cast.
With all that in mind, the six bartenders we chose to put through to the World Class Greece finals in May 2015 are (in alphabetical order):
Nikos Bakoulis (The Clumsies)
Stefanos Draganidakis (The Dalliance House)
Dimitris Polyvios Gouzios (Mosaiko)
Manolis Lykiardopoulos (Theory)
Dimitris DMag Manglaris (Tokyo)
Kostas Xatziavas (Recipe)
And for those we didn’t make it? Get set for Burst Two – you guys are all absolutely amazing!