Ten years later, economic chaos still ravages Greece. The sight of cafés, restaurants and bars packed with animated locals deep in conversation over inky coffees and aromatic Greek wines, then, is testament to the outsize role quality food and drink play in the daily lives of Athenians.
Cocktail dens are increasingly emerging as sought-after social hubs, with bars like The Clumsies, Noel and The Gin Joint combining pristine drinks and funky, relaxing environs. They exist, all in delightfully close proximity to one another for a remarkable bar crawl through the city center, because of a different visionary enterprise: Baba Au Rum.
When Thanos Prunarus, then a 10-year bartending vet, opened Baba Au Rum in 2009, Athens was already well acquainted with proper cocktails, especially those classics in the spotlight at the pioneering Au Revoir. But Prunarus, an Athens native who worked at the likes of Zaza (“people were into the Manhattans and Grasshoppers there,” says Prunarus) and Guru (an ambitious Thai restaurant making sake and plum wine Martinis alongside celebrated barman Michael Menegos), craved a more philosophical experience for his own venture.
“Every night behind the bar, we want our guests to learn that cocktails aren’t just big and colorful but have real traditions and history behind them,” says Prunarus. “We had a very clear concept of the menu, which back then was new. People liked discovering that even if they were used to sipping fine whiskeys there was something for them, too. Everyone was excited that we made our spirits and our cocktails a passion.” This energy caught on rapidly, with Prunarus inspiring other barkeeps to open places with a distinct point of view.
Baba Au Rum stocks more than 150 varieties of its namesake spirit, and for Prunarus, the reason he chose it as a focus over, say, tequila, is because of its appealing versatility and power to resonate with everyone from the breezy Mojito fan to the aficionado who fancies the complexities of cognac.
Indeed, the concoctions showcase a diverse range of rum styles, from the umami Daiquiri with vanilla, sweet sherry, oak, lime and basil to the Negroni crowned with grated tonka bean. The Devil’s Milk (Jamaican coconut rum, chile pepper, lime, falernum, chocolate and nutmeg), with its subtle kick of heat, is a favorite, as is the bright, Tiki-like Spicy Baba No. 7 (aged rum, ginger, berries and lime). From-scratch orgeat and mango soda satisfies on non-boozy evenings.
“I love all spirits, but rum is a magical thing. I always wanted this to be a democratic bar, where whether you are carrying skates or wearing a tie you can get together under one umbrella and have a good time,” says Prunarus. It’s impossible for anyone not to relax when tropical wallpaper and a miniature carousel on the bar instill a lighthearted sense of escape. On weekends, the DJ-fueled crowd, thankfully more artsy house party than nightclub, swells to the street.
Prunarus’ dedication to both the arts of well-wrought libations and the narratives they are cloaked in are further magnified in Fine: A Journal About the Art of Fine Drinking, the globally minded quarterly he launched last summer. “I have a big collection of rare magazines, and I love to share knowledge,” he says of his crossover into the editorial realm. One recent issue, chock-full of vivid photographs and illustrations, dives into such spirituous topics as the Zurich drinking scene and Grenada’s River Antoine Rum Distillery.
Red or Dread
Athens denizens will soon be able to imbibe at Prunarus’ second bar, a hush-hush collaboration with the chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant that melds cocktails and tapas served alfresco. Although a departure from Baba Au Rum, consider this new project an opportunity for him to weave yet another engaging story.