A little over a year after opening, The Clumsies bar, in Athens, is making headlines all over the bartending world. Most recently it entered the World’s 50 Best Bars ranking at the 22nd position. Quite an achievement for a brand new bar but maybe not so surprising! There is serious level behind The Clumsies’s stations after all. Its two founders, Nikos Bakoulis and Vasilis Kyritsis, were both Diageo World Class Greece winners; Nikos in 2012, Vasilis in 2013. They both regularly travel all around the world for talks and guest bartending shifts, sometimes taking some of their bartenders with them.
With such a good press, I could not not visit The Clumsies while in Athens. So last week, for my sister’s birthday, we went there for a pre-dinner drink.
The bar is located on Praxitelous Street, near Kolokotroni Street, in what I have come to consider as “Athens’s bar neighbourhood”. It is divided into different zones spread on two floors of an Athenian townhouse from the early 20th century. On the ground floor, there’s the Bar with seats around it, a few tables and a live DJ, the Back Room with its long table and a bookcase with The Clumsies’ previous menus and honours proudly on display, and the Courtyard with its retractable roof. From there you can walk up the steps to the Reading Room. Above the Bar, there is also what is called The Room, a space that can be rented for private events.
Our visit was short as we had dinner reservations elsewhere (you can actually eat at The Clumsies) but we had just enough time to have a quick drink.
As it was still early evening, the day menu was still on offer. So people can enjoy the taste of alcohol without its inebriating effects, The Clumsies’s team has come up with a selection of low ABV cocktails and, more noteworthy, with an interesting choice of non-alcoholic cocktails. And no, I’m not talking about Virgin Mojitos or Virgin Marys which are really spicy tomato juice. At The Clumsies you can have an alcohol free Gin & Tonic, Dark & Stormy, Margarita or, even, a Negroni! I was very intrigued by the latter so Konstantinos, the bartender, served me some to sample it. What a stroke of genius this non alcoholic Negroni ! I’m no expert on Negroni as it’s too bitter for my taste but, now that I think of it, I should have asked for a sample flask to test this version on my bartender friends back home. The colour was there and, more extraordinarily so, the smell was there as well. I honestly could have sworn there was Campari in the drink. Actually, I so expected to retrieve its bitterness that it was with some reluctance that I took my first sip. Well, I was in for a surprise! The drink was actually on the sweet side, not too sweet though. The smell really fooled me and I really enjoyed the drink.
What did I actually order by the way? I went for a low ABV cocktail called a C&T. A mix of cold drip coffee, spiced falernum and tonic water, served in a highball glass with ice cubes. It was a very interesting, very flavourful drink. The smell reminded me of Rivella, a Swiss fizzy soft drink made from milk whey. The taste was a complex blend of coffee and different spices with a slight pre-dominance of cardamom.
Before leaving for dinner, I asked Konstantinos if it was possible to visit the bar’s Lab. As implied by its name, this is where the bartenders experiment with products to create new flavour combinations and where they prepare batched drinks for the week’s service. After a quick check with one of his colleagues, maybe one of the bar owners, Konstantinos told me it would be possible so we made plans for the following week. I couldn’t believe my luck and was extremely excited about my next visit to The Clumsies.
After a weekend away in Santorini, the day of my second visit to The Clumsies finally arrived.
Around a cup of coffee and an ice coffee, Konstantinos first gave me some explanations about the bar’s latest cocktail menu. Launched just last month, it was 6-7 months in the making! It is The Clumsies’s third menu since the bar opened last year and it should stay for about a year. Every bartender was involved in its creation with each of them giving suggestions for new drinks.
The menu’s layout evokes me a game board which you unfold to discover its content. On its front cover, above a quote by Lewis Carroll, extracted from Alice in Wonderland, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”, lies a formula “S = mC3” reminiscing of Einstein’s E = mC2. Intriguing, right?
Open the first flap and you get a short explanation about…Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which, roughly summarized, states that the Universe has four dimensions : three space-dimensions and one time-dimension. With the below flap introducing cocktails under the word “Past”, you understand that time is what’s going to interest us in The Clumsies’s menu.
Upon unfolding the second flap you finally understand the reference to Einstein’s special relativity theory. You have in your hands the materialization of The Clumsies’s theory of special relativity! S= mC3 stands for Space (or maybe it’s an allusion to the stumbling first “s” on The Clumsies’s logos) = menu Clumsies n°3!
Under the Past section, you find the classic cocktails. Classic, yet no so classic, as they have been given The Clumsies’s touch and are prepared using “new-age” techniques. Catch me if you can is a twist on the Aviation, whereas Sangre y Arena – Spanish for Blood and Sand – is, well, The Clumsies’s take on Blood & Sand. Special mention here for #Clumsynegroni which uses The Clumsies’s very own Old Tom Gin (produced by a distiller in Kalamata) as well as their house blend vermouth and adds beeswax and pepper for a truly unique variation of the classic Negroni.
The Present section introduces contemporary cocktails. Most of them are sweet or sweet and sour, with the exception of The Gatherer which goes for an umami taste. As Konstantinos would later explain, Greek people mostly like sweet and sour cocktails. The idea at The Clumsies is however to enhance the drinking experience and introduce its guests to new tastes, such as umami. “It’s a bit difficult but the response is positive” says Konstantinos. I was curious about the “smoke” listed as an ingredient for Do not disturb the bees. When I asked if they used a smoking gun to give that specific flavour to the cocktail, Konstantinos quickly went to the bar and returned with a black wine glass which he had dusted with edible ash.
Finally, the Future section offers what you could call visionary cocktails. Each of them contains some pretty daring ingredients, black garlic for example ! Also there is a certain turning point in terms of the tastes towards which the cocktails tend. No more sweet or sweet and sour drinks. You’ll get sweet and refreshing (with the Whiskey & Cola?, a pre-batched, bottled, mix of peanut butter infused blend of scotch whiskies and homemade clear cola), umami, complexed, bitter and sweet, as well as the rather bold dry and salty! The latter can be tasted with Circle of Life, a twist on the Dry Martini mixing Vodka, Sauternes wine, Parmesan brine and pickled currants!
After these explanations on the menu, Konstantinos proceeded to show me the bookcase located in the Back Room, just beneath the staircase leading upstairs to the Lab. On its shelves are the different honours The Clumsies has won and its first two menus. Special mention here goes towards the very first one. As said earlier, The Clumsies aims at enhancing people’s drinking experience by introducing their palates to new tastes. The bar’s first menu consisted in a wooden box filled with tiny jam jars. Guests only had to smell the content of each jar – ranging from sour to umami through sweet – to choose their drinks!
After visiting the Back Room, we moved upstairs. First, Konstantinos led me to The Room, where private parties for groups of 10 people max can be held. Located right above The Bar, it has a very gentlemen club’s vibe to it with its billiard table, old paintings hanging on the walls and luxury spirits displayed on wooden bookshelves! There I was introduced to Eleftherios, one of The Clumsies’s partners who kindly offered to send me pictures for this article.
Finally, it was time for the highlight of the day : the Lab! I was super excited to visit it, even more so after learning about their various housemade ingredients. I felt like I was about to visit some secret chamber, a sentiment that was somewhat enhanced when Konstantinos told me it was the only room I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of.
The staff at The Clumsies works in rotation : 3 days behind the bar, 7 days in the Lab. The room is equipped with all sorts of equipment bartenders use to prepare batched drinks for the Bar. These include : a thermomix; a vacuum to seal ingredients –whether solids or liquids – in plastic bags ; a sous-vide machine to slowly cook at constant and precise temperature those ingredients and obtain liqueurs, syrups, purées and so on ; a centrifuge to extract the juice or even the water of fruits, vegetables or herbs ; a rotary evaporator, a machine often used in molecular cooking to combine flavours and prepare distillates, make reductions, obtain extracts, etc. Also, as in any kitchen, there are induction hobs to cook ingredients and boil water to create syrups and cordials, as well as refrigerators to keep the preparations in a cool place.
Konstantinos offered me a glimpse at The Clumsies’s recipe notebooks. Well, even tough I learned the Greek alphabet in high school, I can honestly say that it was still …all Greek to me and The Clumsies’s secrets are safe with me! I didn’t understand a single word!
Obviously I had a great time at The Clumsies and I will return for sure next time I go to Athens. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy a cocktail with The Clumsies Old Tom Gin at home!