Ioannis Korovesis describes opening his own bar, after years of managing bars at other establishments, as giving birth to a child. With the anxiety before opening, expecting hiccups and delays, and the around-the-clock work it has been since then, it certainly fits.
If Borsalino is a child, think of this new Athens it-bar as the love child of Italian mobster movie style and modern Mediterranean bar culture.
I visit for a talk with Korovesis on a Thursday night, which is a busy night in central Athens. It is less than a month since Borsalino opened its doors, but people have definitely found their way here already. They step inside with the confidence of people going into their regular bar, greet Korovesis and the staff, and order specialty cocktails without looking at the menu. At eight o’clock bewildered groups of people have gathered on the street, looking through the large windows on all sides of Borsalino. “There is nowhere to sit, what should we do?”
I expected no less. Korovesis, Makis Papadatos, Aris Vasilopoulos, and Nikos Tsampros went for a small space, and there has been no advertising for Borsalino; just good old word of mouth and blog whispers. Still, this cozy central bar was bound to attract a crowd. The answer to why might lie in Korovesis’ answer to what his goal is for Borsalino:
“My goal for a bar is always to create an experience that is just as accomplished in every aspect. Most places put so much focus on one thing. I go to some places and really enjoy the cocktails, but the space isn’t inviting, or the music is bad. It’s not about personal taste; it’s that no effort has been put into those things.”
Looking around, I see what he means. Someone with strong attention to detail has reviewed and polished every aspect of this bar. However, unlike many of the more upscale establishments around Athens, this bar isn’t boring, which can be the other side of the coin when reaching for perfection and an overall theme.
“Our overall concept may sound strange, but in two words, it’s innate elegance. It has to do with what the Italians refer to as sprezzatura [studied carelessness]. We’re not trying to look like the pricey northern suburb bars. We wanted perfection, but also a relaxed atmosphere.”
The same goes for the staff. The owners looked for attentive and professional people, but weren’t interested in a snobbish attitude. “I spent a lot of time choosing our attire, as I wanted it to reflect this. What we wear is something between a vest and a jacket, with a loose fit; it isn’t too strict. It’s relaxed, but still smart.”
Photos by: Iwanna Mantzorou and Paulina Björk Kapsalis
He points to the drink I ordered; the “Bossa per Due”, with pistachio infused vodka, vanilla, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and pineapple, served in a pretty rocks glass. “That’s us! Comfort flavor but in a luxurious package.”
It’s a pretty good description. The fact that the inspiration has been taken from several different time periods and Mediterranean countries seems to help. One might expect to find mainly classic aperitivo at a bar named as an Italian hat company, but the cocktail list includes ingredients from all around the Mediterranean; Greek mastiha liqueur, red wine and Metaxa, Italian vermouth and prosecco, French Champagne, as well as fresh herbs and honey, to name a few. The kitchen menu, which will be available soon, will have Spanish style tapas, but with flavors from all around the Mediterranean. The music naturally switches between French lounge music and Italian bossa nova. Done wrong, it could be confusing. But this is Borsalino and sprezzatura, and it all melds and sets the mood to relaxed.
Don’t get me wrong though. While not stiff, Borsalino is still very hip. The second cocktail that I try, the “Besos de Tequila”, is garnished with grapefruit and a single head of wheat. It is not only stylish, but also works as an indirect warning sign for fellow hipsters; Watch out, this tequila cocktail is not gluten free, we put beer in our syrup!
Owners: Ioannis Korovesis, Makis Papadatos, Aris Vasilopoulos, and Nikos Tsampros
Address: Kolokotroni 59
Web site: https://www.facebook.com/BorsalinoBarAthens
Phone no: 210 323 2222
Reservation needed: On weekends
Credit Cards: Soon
Open hours: 9:00AM – 3:00AM
Price range: Cocktails 6–10€