Here's how Athens has become the window to the world of cocktails (in which Italy plays a major role)

Dec 5 2023, 18:22
The Greek capital is at the heart of mixology industry events. A well-established organisation, combined with a core group of knowledge-hungry bartenders and significant cocktail-dedicated venues, has been the key to success

Once upon a time, there was the Bar Convent Berlin (BCB). Born in 2007 in the German capital, it was the world's first bar show thanks to the brilliant insight of Helmut Adam, Jens Hasenbein, and Bastian Heuser. In the following years, Berlin became the focus of attention for companies eager to market their products internationally and for professionals and enthusiasts in the industry curious to learn about the latest mixology trends. It still holds that position, but in the meantime, something happened that changed the game in the global bar industry. In 2010, the Bar Academy Greece group, founded in 2007 with the aim of educating the new generations of bartenders and led by entrepreneur Babis Kaidalidis, decided that the city of Athens could make its mark.

The story of the Athens Bar Show

The first two editions, under the name The Bar Academy Show, took place at the Metropolitan Expo near the airport, featuring nine exhibitors and a thousand visitors. In 2012, the event moved downtown to The Hub Events and was renamed the Athens Bar Show, drawing in three thousand visitors. By 2014, the decision to select a new venue proved to be a winning move: Technopolis, a former gasworks in the vibrant district of Gazi, became the ideal location for an exhibition that this year hosted 120 stands with approximately 90 exhibitors and over 19,000 visitors. Easily accessible by metro from the airport, it's very convenient for those already in the city, with an unmissable fifteen-minute walk offering a view of the Acropolis from Monastiraki Square, the bustling heart of the capital. This expansive venue comprises seven indoor exhibition pavilions and the added value of a vast outdoor area, creating a two-day event evenly divided between business, education, and entertainment. Initially aimed at Greek companies and predominantly Greek visitors, over the years, this bar show has massively expanded its international reach.

Why does Athens win?

What are the reasons behind such a rapid yet consistently substantial rise that, considering the current situation, is undoubtedly enduring? Certainly, it's due to a well-established organisation over the years that has managed to meet the commercial needs of brands but, more importantly, has understood and catered to the interests of visitors by diversifying offerings between educational and entertainment aspects. Leveraging its extensive experience in the educational field, Bar Academy, whose motto for ABS is "Stirring up the future of bars," has consistently maintained a calendar of high-content seminars in successive editions, featuring speakers/gurus from the industry worldwide. This has led to the creation of a core group of bartenders thirsty not only for knowledge about techniques and trends in their profession but also for a deeper understanding of bar culture in the broader sense.

Inside and outside the salon

Inside and outside the exhibition hall, an important aspect of entertainment is added, both within the fair and throughout the city. As early as the first part of the afternoon on the two days of work, Technopolis comes alive with the right blend of drinks and music, culminating in the stage for the Closing Party on the third day. During this event, national and international mixing stars take turns behind the bar stations. Simultaneously, the entire city gets involved in the Athens Bar Week – which this year ran from November 5th to 9th – featuring guest shifts and events hosted by the most significant names in global mixology at the city's top cocktail bars, in collaboration with sponsoring companies.


The Athenian scene

The city's mixology scene, always vibrant, has seen the success of iconic cocktail bars such as The Clumsies or Baba au Rhum solidify in recent years. There's also been the emergence of new openings like Line Athens, which climbed to the 12th spot in The World’s 50 Best Bars list this year. Additionally, phenomena that attract a wide audience, such as Barro Negro (specializing in agave distillates) or Bar in Front of the Bar, have emerged.

All of this is influenced by the beauty of a city with a rich artistic and cultural heritage: it takes at least a day to enjoy visits to the Acropolis, the Agora, the remarkable Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and the scattered temples around the city, including the Temple of Hephaestus. Last but not least, the climate plays a part: in early November, Athens still enjoys a semi-summery air, with sunny days that encourage travel planning.

Mixology, the growth of Italy

Let's delve into Italy's involvement, which was a significant protagonist in this edition. On the business front, the first to recognize the potential of this event was Disaronno, present from the beginning, followed by Luxardo, Cocchi, Molinari, Campari, Aperol, Montenegro, Select, Vecchio Amaro del Capo. However, it's only in recent years that other independent brands have begun to participate, seeking importers crucial for conquering a rapidly expanding market. This edition saw the involvement of dynamic new companies like Altamura Distilleries, Cordusio, Engine, Isola di Favignana Gin, and J Rose Gin.

Noteworthy was the presence among the stands of the Italian Spirit Syndicate group, which brought together 11 small quality Italian companies under one umbrella. Under the guidance of Blue Blazer, also the international press office of this year's event, the group also orchestrated the Bar Marathon "We Will Always Have Italy," two evenings of guest shifts on the enchanting Parthenon-view terrace at the A for Athens Cocktail Bar, featuring 16 venues that took turns in pairs. Florence was strongly represented with Gucci Giardino 25, Locale Firenze, Giacosa, and Santa Cocktail Club; W Rome and Blind Pig from Rome, Caravella Café&Spirits from Castellammare di Stabia, Quantobasta from Lecce, Sartoria from Palermo, The Balance from Savona. Among the numerous other takeovers in the city, the multi-award-winning 1930 Cocktail Bar from Milan, Drink Kong and Freni Frizioni from Rome, and L’Antiquario from Naples couldn't be missed.

A beautiful idea from the 1930 Cocktail Bar, promptly embraced by the organisation, was to create an exclusive oasis of peace within the bustling Bar Show, a blend of a lounge and a speakeasy, featuring a dedicated cocktail list and cigar tastings.

Who attends the Athens Bar Show

On the visitor side, thanks to continuous exchanges with major mixology events in Italy, even the audience of Italian industry professionals - which has exponentially expanded over the years - has begun to take a keen interest in the event, participating with increasing numbers.

The third day of ABS, prior to the Closing Party, is dedicated to leisure time for visitors and, for guests, to experiences: from tours of the Acropolis to forays into the world of luxury, an aspect that Athens still somewhat observes from a distance. This includes a trip for lunch at the Four Seasons Astir Palace, overlooking the Athens Riviera near Vouliagmeni, a 30-minute drive from the city centre. After the toils of the bar show, a few days by the sea and relaxation here can be a delightful conclusion, perhaps with a drink at the Avra Bar and a taste of the Michelin-starred cuisine by the talented Italian chef, Luca Piscazzi, at the Pelagos Restaurant.


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