When (most) people think of The Clumsies, the award-winning, good times bar in Athens, two names spring to mind. Vasilis Kyristis and Nikos Boukalis. That’s understandable. They’re the founders, the movers and shakers, the two former World Class Greece bartenders who together and separately travel the world and share The Clumsies love. Still, it takes more than two people to take a bar in the Greek capital to number four in the World’s 50 Best Bars list. And their latest cocktail menu is testament to that.
“Nikos and I only came up with two drinks this time round. This menu belongs to the everyday heroes,” says Vasilis. And to prove it, he hands over to Georgia Georgakopoulou and Nick Sourbatis to talk us through the 12-strong drinks list. As General Manager and Head Bartender respectively, they were given free rein to devise the look, feel and most importantly, the flavour profile of the cocktails. A task they accomplished in little more than seven weeks. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity even though it wasn’t easy given the time we had,” Georgia laughs. “But once we decided that we would be guided by the challenges that everyone has been through in the past two years, the concept came to us pretty quickly.”
It’s called Feelings (or ‘F<3lings’ as it’s written on the cover). “It’s been tough emotionally for all of us but instead of the negative emotions that we may have experienced during the moments of uncertainty, we decided to focus on three positive feelings. These are the feelings that we want our guests to experience when they walk into the bar, taste our cocktails and engage with the team,” she continues. “That interaction between a guest and the bartender is magical. We need these positive feelings, now more than ever.”
We can’t argue with that but, how do you communicate happiness, excitement and tenderness through flavour? ‘Does happiness have a colour? If excitement was a melody, what would it sound like? How can a heartbeat reveal tenderness?’ These are the questions posed in the introductory section of the menu. The answers are revealed on the following six pages.
“This represents the ground floor of The Clumsies,” Georgia says referring to the first section of the menu. “It’s called Happiness. Why? Because everyone who comes through the door wants to feel happy and we want them to leave that way.”
The iconic smiley face that we all know and love sets the tone. “It’s a universal symbol that instantly lets you know that you’re in for a good time,” Nick adds. Visual cues aside, the emotion is replicated in four drinks: The Dark Side of the Moon (Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky, pear, strawberry, caper, rose geranium and black lemon); Satisfaction (Ketel One Vodka, Mancino Rosso Vermouth, Metaxa 12 Stars, rosemary, strawberry, tonka); X-Tasis (Buttered Zacapa 23 Rum, passion fruit, pineapple, fermented milky oolong tea), and Eden Garden (Star of Bombay London Gin, sandalwood Campari, Mancino Sakura Vermouth, Eden Flower).
The concoctions are bright and zingy; fresh and fragrant with fruit, sometimes dominant, sometimes subtle, contributing to the overall happiness vibe. The Dark Side of the Moon is a case in point. We loved it. Served in a small can for guests to pour into a Collins glass over a suitably long and elegant ice cube, even for a Highball, it’s big on flavour and attitude. A garnish of dehydrated caper leaf and homemade meringue add an extra layer of happy feels.
“When it came to this part of the menu, we were thinking of the things that might make you feel excited,” says Georgia. “For example, when you’re in a bouncy mood, you’re excited, so we wanted to create a drink that has that same effect. We decided to make a Highball with a really exotic ingredient, something you don’t see in other bars.” The result is the Bouncy Highball (Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, Mancino Seco Vermouth, apricot vinegar and tamarillo soda), a super fresh, decidedly moreish low abv drink which deftly combines hint of the tropics with a complex acidity that works beautifully with the tamarillo.
With its intriguing blend of Ketel One Vodka, coleslaw, sauerkraut, raisin and pistachio milk, The Caregiver is perhaps the most exciting, more complex drink in this section of the menu. “We’ve worked with sauerkraut before, but this time we wanted to do something more than sauerkraut,” Georgia continues. “So we decided to make a milk punch with it.” What does it taste like? Intriguing and very different to anything you’ve probably tasted before. Not in a bad way we might add. Equal parts silky and salty, it leaves a deliciously pleasing pistachio aftertaste and as Georgia explains, it acts as a bridge to the next section of the menu.
“We always include a cocktail that connects one part of the menu to the next,” she tells us. “This particular drink is the ideal link to Tenderness. It’s creamy and comforting – just like a warming hug”.
Which brings us to the role that Tenderness has to play in the repertoire. “This is where we want to express our care for our guests,” Nick says. “It also takes in the ‘tending’ part of the word ‘bartending’ which we’ve interpreted with a whole section of fermented drinks.” Why fermentation? “It’s a natural process that needs nurturing in order to get the perfect outcome. If it isn’t looked after properly, if it isn’t tended, it results in mould.”
No chance of any bad tastes here. Quite the opposite, the cocktails in this section are considered and comforting taking in another Colada (Eminente Ambar Claro Rum, Amores Mezcal, coconut milk kefir, pineapple, cacao); Intimacy (Don Julio Blanco Tequila, Verde Mezcal, beetroot kvass, pandam, turmeric, London Essence Rosemary & Grapefruit); Bee’s Gifts (Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey, honey mead vinegar, hazelnut, Pedro Ximinez) and Queen Maya (Otto’s Athens Vermouth, O/Purist Tsipouro, guava, saffron, cucumber).
We tried the Bee’s Gifts (above). Complex, with just the right level of sweet, it’s a slightly nutty Old Fashioned with just a hint of acidity coming through. It’s typical of all of the drinks that we tasted on our visit: familiar but different, clever yet accessible, fun and totally serious.
As is customary with The Clumsies, the menu can be accessed via a QR code as well as the hard copy. But more than being a dynamic way to access the 12 drinks on the list, there are bonus features which open up to reveal hidden elements, including three lucky drinks and a specially compose music score. “Those little details make people feel really special,” says Nick.
Behind the menu:
Which of the dozen drinks was most challenging and in turn most rewarding to make?
For Georgia is was the Dragonball in the Excitement section. “Dragonfruit is a really interesting ingredient but it doesn’t really have a taste. I pickled it, made a cordial with it, in fact I played and played with it to try to make something special. I wanted what it lacks in flavour it makes up for with its brilliant colour and a high water content. I ended up centrifuging it and giving a taste to something tasteless by adding rum, lychee liqueur and kaffir lime cordial. It took a while to get the combination right but I’m really proud of it.”
Nick’s most challenging drink also appears in Excitement. “Since I’ve worked at The Clumsies, I’ve always made the easy-going drinks – Nikos is the person who picks the difficult drinks; the tastes and flavours that no one would understand how they are connected. Creating But First Coffee definitely took me outside of my comfort zone.
For me it’s that buzz or excitement that you get when you wake up and have that first sip of coffee. While I’m not a fan of Espresso Martinis, I do love Dry Martinis, so I wanted to create a drink that was somewhere in between the two taste profiles. During the research process I tasted various types of beans. I wanted to get give Dry Martinis layers of coffee, so I worked with the beans cooked at different temperatures to bring out the different characteristics like nuts, fruit and flowers. The thing that brings it altogether is one to two drops of wasabi, we don’t include it on the menu in case it scares people off but it’s a small detail that binds everything together.”