Where to Drink in Athens: The Gin Joint
We arrived in Athens with only the barest of plans in place: we knew we wanted to visit the Acropolis; we had a place to stay: and we had a restaurant recommendation and a handful of cocktail bar recommendations. To our great delight, all of these things were within walking distance of one another in Athens’ old town. Our ferry docked at just the right time for us to drop off our luggage at our airbnb and head out for a happy hour and dinner. The Gin Joint was about a ten minute walk from our place, and practically around the corner from our restaurant.
It’s apparently more of an after-dinner spot. The place was empty but for us and a regular who was taking sips between ducking out to the sidewalk for cigarettes. Our early arrival initially wrong-footed the bartender, but he eventually got his bearings.
The most noticeable feature of The Gin Joint is their high-ceilinged wall of gin behind the bar, approximately 160 different gins all told. We asked our bartender how many of them he had tried, and weren’t surprised that he could give us an exact number. We were surprised that it was such a small one: 19. We couldn’t help spending much of the rest of our time there doing our own count; we’ve tried 21 of the gins on The Gin Joint wall, and we got up to 34 different gins we’ve tried in total before our drinks were finished and we stopped counting. The bartender did mention that he’s pretty new, having started at The Gin Joint six months ago; at his current rate, though, it’ll take him three and a half more years to get to 160.
We got the impression that gin is an uncommon spirit in Greek bars, with rum, local spirits, and liqueurs being at the center of things instead. The Gin Joint seemed to be on a mission to expose Athens to gin, its deliciousness, and its diversity. The menu was well-designed to accomplish that mission, with variations on the gin & tonic and other gin-and-herb recipes dominating.
What We Ordered
Gin O’ Clock: gin, pink grapefruit, skinos & green pepper bitters, nutmeg, tonic
What We Thought
Our initial attempt at suggesting a mocktail version of one of their cocktails was rebuffed; the main flavor was infused into gin. After a moment’s consideration, though, the bartender whipped together quite a decent mocktail from scratch, the key ingredient being Three Cents Grapefruit Soda, which we noticed was very common on the Athens cocktail menus. It’s light and crisp, flavorful without being overbearingly syrupy. The tinctures and salt rim added an extra measure of interest to the drink.
Gin O’Clock was an especially easy drinking gin & tonic. The splash of grapefruit made it gently fruity, and gave it a beautiful blush color. We ordered this particular gin & tonic out of all of the options because we were curious about the skinos and green pepper bitters. The green pepper was hard to discern, but the skinos (the resin of a particular evergreen tree on the island of Chios) contributed a subtle touch of sweet pine. We enjoyed the drink in and of itself, and it got us to thinking that maybe we should be adding bitters to our gin & tonic more often.
The Doctored Gin & Tonic Cocktail Recipe
- 2 oz dry gin
- 1 dash bitters*
- 3 oz tonic
- Pour gin into a highball glass.
- Add the bitters.
- Fill with ice.
- Top with tonic
*We discovered that not all bitters worked equally. Angostura, for instance, made the drink too bitter and too busy. Floral and fruitier bitters worked well, as did anise flavor. In order of preference, we would recommend lavender bitters, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, orange bitters, and maraschino liqueur–all in a single dash. Though neither floral nor fruity, to our surprise a dash of fernet worked well too.