Athens, Part 2: 42 Barstronomy
This is the second review in a two-part series of Kate’s night drinking alone in Athens. Read Part 1 here.
By Kate Shelton, Guest Writer
42 Barstronomy, Kolokotroni 3, Athina 105 62, Greece
The Place: In search of another theme bar with more opportunities for conversation, I leave Noel for 42 Barstronomy, which owes its namesake to Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” as recommended by The Travel Porter.
The Time: 11:15pm on this Tuesday night. The intimate tables outside are full but the inside is empty except for two men at the bar. I’m disappointed the kitchen is closed when I arrive because from their Insta, the food also looks very yummy.
The Vibe: This bar has a Mad Men feeling to it: heavy wood paneling on the walls and bar, marble topped tables, and overstuffed booths with giant brass studs, featured both in leather and a cool blue velvet. The music seems to be a playlist that feels a bit somber for the young, bright eyed crowd here. Normally this would be enough for me to veto the venue and high tail it out to the closest gay bar. Who wants to drink in the empty smoking lounge of some old-school boy’s club? But I hesitate, looking for the “out of this world” theme I had been promised, and only then do I notice the flora crawling across the ceiling, featuring patches of moss and long stemmed flowers that sprout downwards to right above my head. This place might just be kookier than meets the eye so I decide to give it a shot.
The Bartender: Behind the bar is a pair of bartenders in jaunty navy polka dot button downs (the waitstaff version of this uniform is a gendered pale pink, mid calf polka dot dress that comes off a bit frumpy and only enhances the patriarchal overtones). Both boys are generous with their time and attention, from hand picked ice cubes in my water glass to offering a custom-made cocktail while I am struggling to choose one of the signature drinks off the menu.
The Drank: I finally settle on 42's tequila drink, Anamesia, for my first cocktail: Don Julio blanco & reposado blend, Clement Canne Bleue rhum, maraschino liqueur, lime-chili cordial, fresh pineapple, violette, and spiced cranberry bitters; priced at 12€, pretty average for a cocktail in central Athens, and absolutely heavenly. It’s citrusy but not overly sweet and it’s definitely got plenty of tequila. But as I ease into the playful confidence of the blue velvet chairs and inverted fauna, I decide to take my hosts up on their offer — after all, there’s no one more satisfied than a woman who can ask for exactly what she wants. I catch my bartender’s undivided attention and ask if he can make a cocktail equally as delicious as the Anamesia, but this time using mastika.*
[*Mastika is a Greek liquor I can only describe as an organic mouthwash you might find at Whole Foods. Sharp and minty, I’ve tried it straight, with and without ice, mixed with banana liqueur to add some sweetness, yet nothing can suppress my gag reflex before it even touches my lips.]
Manthis, the bartender with rolled sleeves and silver skull ring, is unfazed; he merely asks if I like my cocktails sweet and sour. I nod, and like an artist at his worktable, Manthis begins. Another couple has joined us at the bar and the three of us, plus the other bartender, openly stare as Manthis plucks unlabeled bottles from below the counter, only stopping to take in a scent or sample a quick taste before continuing on. Five minutes later he presents the finished product and all eyes wait on me expectantly for the first sip. “Delicious,” I announce, and Manthis beams with pride. "Ok, you have to tell me everything that’s in here," I'm bubbling over with curiosity and lose all my cool, but he just laughs. “What’s your poison, darlin’?” So Manthis and I share a round of tequila shots while I make him list all those unlabeled ingredients: cinnamon bitters, lime, passion fruit, Japanese yuzu, mastika, crushed ice, a flower garnish, a cucumber slice draped around the glass and food coloring because, "You drink first with your eyes." *swoon*
Was I Hit On?: Other than the guy who pulled out one of the heavy stools for me when I first hobbled into the bar, Manthis is the only person who talks to me — which could be a result of looking very American in a Greek-speaking city, but still disappointing since I came here looking for some fun conversation. While I take generous sips of Manthis' Mastika Masterpiece™, I chat with him a bit about his life in Athens, my work in Ioannina and the blog that has me taking such copious notes. Manthis would like to go on record that enjoying a solo drink, or even a meal, is one of the most pleasurable aspects about taking a vacation, and he is off to read the other reviews on Girl's Guide as soon as his shift ends.
I'm so engrossed in note taking that I don't notice the time until Manthis appears on my side of the bar in his street clothes. "Do you want to see downstairs?" Now. I do not condone following men you’ve only known for an hour into any basement, especially on crutches. However, Greece is one of the safest countries I’ve ever visited and the server in the unfortunate pink polka dot dress keeps coming in and out of the downstairs door so I decide I feel secure enough to do my one-footed hop down the stairs behind Manthis. I can't hide my excitement that this must be where the Hitchhiker's Guide theme has been hiding the whole time. Indeed, as I follow him through a padlocked door and down a spiral staircase, we might be headed into another world. But no, it’s an ACTUAL CIGAR ROOM with even fancier leather chairs, a lacquered wood table and the bar’s most expensive booze protected behind a metal cage. I express some disappointment about the lack of theme, and Manthis explains that after new management took over, the only Hitchhiker’s remnant is the name, and concedes that a bar that advertises a fairy tale should probably reflect a more imaginative atmosphere. I appreciate the tour, but if I wanted to drink in a “good ole boys” lounge I wouldn't have left the hotel, so we head back up to the main bar.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Despite my aversion to the décor, I would highly recommend paying 42 Barstronomy a visit and treating yourself to a bespoke cocktail. You can definitely drink in peace if you want a calm place to read or journal, or you can try to strike up a conversation with another English-speaking patron. And give my best to Manthis ;)
I set out in search of a fun theme bar and somehow found two places with strong character and specific stylistic choices — they just weren't the ones I had expected. And somehow they still exceeded all expectations I had for a kitchzy Christmas trap and a nerdy literary hub. My advice: if you're looking to make some new friends as a foreigner in Athens, find a bar in the heart of tourist territory (the Plaka) or really brush up on your conversational Greek. However, if you're truly looking for some solo time and tasty drinks, with good atmosphere and hip Athenians, Kolokotroni is the street for you.
Kate Shelton is a freelance stage manager based in NYC. She’s also that friend with zero chill who passes out itineraries on vacation and packs a purse for any scenario (someday someone will need that travel-size lint roller!).