Drinks on the go as the sun sets in the squares and pedestrian streets of Athens. They’re deep red and bittersweet, or brightly orange with low alcohol content and bubbles, herbs, bitter orange, and ice. Often, they’re served with a bowl of olives on the side, or perhaps a small sandwich or something savory and fried, and always with a cheerful mood that comes with spontaneous gatherings.
Aperitivo, the Italian tradition of enjoying these early evening pre-dinner drinks has won the world over, and it seems to fit Greece perfectly. Like Artemis Papadopoulos, owner of Athens’ first spritzeria, told me recently: “Aperitivo is about the enjoying company and conversation, and relaxing after a day’s work. Good company is the most important part of it, all the rest is secondary, but still important.”
What exactly does “aperitivo” mean? The word derives from the Latin “aperire,” meaning something that stimulates an appetite. Most of the time, these drinks are low in alcohol, dry and a little bitter, to prepare our pallets for the meal that will usually follow. How it works is, because as humans we’re designed to interpret bitter flavors as potentially poisonous, our bodies respond to it as such, and begins to produce increased amounts of saliva and stomach acids – making us feel hungry as a result. In addition, the accompanying small snacks are there to further boost our appetites, rather than to satisfy it.
Most bars in Athens serve drinks and snacks suitable for aperitivo. Below are five of our favorites.
The most Italian-like corner in the Acropolis neighborhood is that housing the city’s only (probably) spritzeria. Walking by Drupes, you feel like you’re been transported to Milano. It’s small with few seats, and most guests enjoy their drinks standing up, filling the charming little street with the parked vespa. Apertivo culture is perfectly represented here.
It is located directly opposite the famous Takis bakery, and was founded by Artemis Papadopoulos, the son of the late baker. He credited his idea to “the joy of a quick drink.” Among the ten or so spritz on offer are the Mezzo Mezzo, with Campari and Aperol; the Mandarino; and the smaller “Spritzaki” for those in a hurry. These can be perfectly paired with fine charcuterielike the 24-months-aged prosciutto, cheeses from Greece and abroad and, of course, bread from the family bakery.
Drupes and Drips, 20 Zitrou, Acropolis, Tel. (+30) 697.030.0404
Odori Vermuteria di Atene
The vermuteria located opposite of the little Byzantine church of Saints Theodores offers drinks and food throughout the day, but the afternoon is the best time to visit. The tables inside Odori and on the pedestrian street outside lend themselves to spontaneous meetings with friends and recuperation after the office. Bestsellers here are the house vermouth and the negroni, but the cocktail list by Manilis Lykiardopoulos and his team is worth exploring further. For snacking, there’s piadina, a chicken and mozzarella pie with handmade crust; bruschetta with meatballs, sauce napolitaine and pesto; As well as pizza with nice thin crust. If you like spicy food, try the Vesuvio, with spicy salami, pancetta, mozzarella and parmesan.
Odori Vermuteria di Atene, 2 Skouleniou, Agion Theodoron Square, Tel. (+30) 210.331.4674
While not an Italian place per se, newly opened Eprepe, in the Kypseli neighborhood, meets all the requirements for great afternoon gatherings, Italy meets Kypseli style. This bar has already become a meeting point, attracting all types of people, from youngsters to hipsters, to local from the neighborhood. The windows open to the sidewalks on all sides, and the tables seamlessly connect the inside space with the outdoor area on the wide sidewalk of Agias Zonis Street. Among the bitter drinks suitable for aperitivo we find a discreetly smoked martini; a negroni with a touch of pineapple and geranium; and their specialty spritz, with sparkling Savatiano, Bitter Bianco and club soda, created by head bartender Nikolas Moschonas. Also on the menu are natural wines from small Greek wineries.
To further stimulate our appetite, we snack on Eprepe’s interpretation of the Venetian baccalà mantecato, in a cod croquette with buttery skordalia (garlic dip); focaccia with herbs, pea puree and asparagus tarts; or some fried gigantes beans, which we’re served in a bowl with our drink in place of nuts.
Eprepe, 1 Agias Zonis, Kypseli, Tel. (+30) 210,864.4910
Behind the Onassis Stegi, on the wide pavement of Evridamantos Street, Petros Zisou (who also runs popular bar Ble Papagalos) opened a new place a few years back, open throughout the day. It quickly became a popular hangout for employees of the surrounding office buildings, as well as for the theater crowd, who visit before and after the shows at nearby venues. Here, we enjoy our aperitivo either leaning against the bar, or sitting in one of the comfortable chairs either inside or on the sidewalk.
Among the excellent choices, we like Dimitris Messinis’ signature Campari spritz, which features a splash of peach liqueur, adding fruity and aromatic character. It goes great with their little sandwiches; chicken nuggets with remoulade; or their pizza napolitaine with authentic crust – try one with mushrooms, rosemary and gorgonzola.
Naif, 10 Leontiou & Evridamantos, Neos Kosmos, Tel. (+30) 210.933.4946
This beautiful wine bistro curated by Michalis Nourloglou clearly has an Italian air, as its name suggests. The extensive wine list, boasting many choises from Italian vineyards, is complemented by a long list of aperitivi, including a white negroni; an americano with cherry soda; and a variety of spritz. The menu has “normal”-sized dishes to enjoy for lunch and dinner, but for those who prefer something light with their drink, chef de cuisine Elli Tzatzalou prepares little delicacies such as pizzeti with dill pesto, zucchini, mortadella from Bologna and pistachios from Aegina; and beef carpaccio with pecans and pecorino.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
Brunello, 12Β Loukianou, Kolonaki, Tel. (+30) 210,724.8889