Few people know how to tend a bar like Mr Yannis does. His style is a rarity, too complex for many fools to understand. Yet, to fully appreciate him, it is by these hacks we must degrade his mastery. Compared side by side, his genius is a simple thing to explain.
Let me present some of his miserable contenders. They are all treacherous quacks. First out is the avid showman who might be the hardest to swallow of them all. If he is not busy building disco muscles at the gym or still living in his mom’s basement practicing his “flairing art”, he might be behind the bar stealing peoples’ precious time by juggling his life away. He takes five painstakingly long minutes to make a bland Gin & Tonic and he insists on setting the bar on fire although every sane man knows that this is not the way to treat one’s best friend. The most embarrassing thing about him (nine out of ten times this is definitely a man) is however that he lacks any sense of required knowledge and taste. Every sign of his incompetence, he covers up with an overabundant usage of synthetic passionfruit juice, just like he tries to conceal all evidence of his non-existential music taste by cranking up that insipid house music which he was briefed about from Rocco at the gym, to an insufferable volume for the tortured guests to endure.
Now, considering the casanovian greek blood that is frustratingly flowing through the arteries of Mr Yannis, I cannot rule out any past scenarios of him having also once been an envious Mediterranean womaniser of a brute. But since this, if it was the case, happened in the heroic good old day, it can’t be anything but prescribed by now. In those days even the most outrageous swindler would dignify himself with some sense of class and it was also long before both tribal tattoos and Tom Cruise degraded the whole concept of “manhood” to an alarming record low. And by the look of it today, Mr Yannis has anyway matured to be a quite respectable man which cannot be said about both the short scientologist or the maddening jugglers that he portrayed back in 1988.
Yes, he does indeed merit the honourifics that are so often abusively applied before a name. Mr Yannis, as he is called by loyal regulars, is a real gentleman - the type most of us lesser fellows so eagerly wish to become but seldom succeed to imitate. And with this in mind, it may not come as a surprise that he does not engage in any rash activities that would drag both himself or his forty-seven year old company in the mud. Because in contrast to the avid showman, Mr Yannis is aware of the fact that he is not the epicentre of this world. He is not even the focal point of his own bar. His clients are, logically. And as he gracefully performs his work, attendantly and with poise but always with one heel in the background, these clients are allowed to elude all of those farcical parades and left to enjoy what is really theirs to enjoy; a good night out.
Enters the self-proclaimed scientist, another detestable cheat. One might feel tempted to feel gratitude towards this kind as his (still most probably a result of masculine shortcomings) arrival on the cocktail scene in the early oughties actually implied the decline of another questionable specie; the before mentioned avid showman. It was after all that long desired “nerd’s revenge” that the self-proclaimed scientist had on his neanderthal predecessor that marked a change in bartending industry - from being too occupied by weak theatre to containing a zealous attention to knowledge and craft. With this credit being acknowledged, there is however no reason to welcome this tattooed swindler in suspenders as a messiah behind the bar. To the real thing, he does not even come close. He calls himself a mixologist but should be classified as a fraud since his vain ambitions of elevating his social status by pretending to be something that he is not is both clueless, disturbing and cold. Clueless because the whole act of playing Dr Moreau in disguise, destined to save the world with another one of his crazy concoctions is a simple task for anyone to see through. Disturbing this is as it reveals a pretentious persona who believes he is somehow above the normal tasks that are expected of someone in his shoes; that is to work hard, suck it up and take care of his clients with warmth and a smile. A cold scenario is what leaves us all as we end up in a sterile laboratory where a reticent experimenter has lost all awareness of the surrounding world.
To be fair, these self-appointed commanders of cocktail renaissance may very well shake up a sour more technically superior than the ones made by Mr Yannis. He is, by all means, not the most accurate and skilful bartender out there. His pours are a bit too long (an otherwise perfect trait), his drinks tend to lack visual brilliance and his knowledge about cocktails seems shaped by those days when Rose’s lime juice yet was to become a bar rack’s pariah. Still, there is something deeply pleasant about the way Mr Yannis makes drinks. He has got a personal touch - a style that feels both unaffected and bona fide. It is as if it doesn't matter how many hours Darren from Delaware would roll his sorrowful moustache in front of Youtube-tutorials on how to foam the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz. In the end of the day it is nothing but a “Great Gatsbian” role-play while Mr Yannis’ work stays naturally connected to the real. Real this is because drinks were actually this stiff and unforgiving back in the golden age but also because Mr Yannis cannot be anything that he is not. As he gently tosses a bar napkin beneath your glass, an innate habitus reveals itself just like it does when he chops up those wonderful little toast pieces which he happily slides over to patrons who had stayed long enough boozing to deserve a nibble with their drink. It is in every act and move, this naturalness of his being. It is in fact all over his bar. The iconic Galaxy - his long life-work which even though it had to relocate to a rather sterile shopping arcade in 1991 still doesn't know how to be anything than what it has always beautifully been; a true bar américain.
What deserves to be noted is that Mr Yannis is also present in his bar. Not to be confused with him being attentive or on guard, this implies that he is basically almost always physically on site at Galaxy, welcoming you and making your drinks. This may sound as an obvious matter but for the third bartending type laid out for scrutiny - the absent jet setter - this is by no means a given thing. If this annoyingly charming chap (still embarrassingly often a man) is not busy getting tanned while doing pop-ups in Sydney or selling his name for the next premium vodka brand, he is probably out on town being the most outstanding ciceron for other prominent members of the cocktail corps d’elite. He is nowhere to be found. He leads an excessive way of life and no matter how inspired and envious we might be of hearing about his never ending escapades, his value as a bartender needs to be questioned as he spends more time on social media than behind a real bar.
This paradoxical nature of the absent jet setter makes a less charming scenario in the end. He is more likely to pop up on your daily Instagram feed while you are wasting your time on the loo, than to appear in bodily form to offer you his most delightful treats. Stardom or not, this is a logistical problem which cannot be gainsaid. Meanwhile in Athens, a large statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis, a prominent leader during the Greek War of Independence, stands on a horseback with his right arm raised, presumably showing his soldiers the way to battle. Now, regulars of Galaxy insist on joking that he is actually pointing to this bar and no matter how amusingly absurd this may be it is actually symbolically true in a way. Because just as the statue remains on the same spot year after year, so does Mr Yannis seem to stand cemented behind his bar. And although this is an admirable thing on its own, it is intriguing as well. Mr Yannis might be continually present in one way, as curiously disconnected he is in another and by being that “under the radar” and hardworking bar owner, you'll need to visit him to find him out. You will need to get Athens to live his world. It takes a bit more of an investment from your own side but gives back a lot more of the real. Again, more of the real.
There are of course countless other examples of disturbing bartender profiles that can bring a well-deserved light to the humble phenomenon that governs the bar at Galaxy. The nonchalantly yawning actor student doing part-time to pay the rent but who resent anyone stepping through the doors is of course one of them. So is the racist choleric who decided to open up a bar just so he (most definitely a he) can throw out guests based on the colour of their skin. This guy is no good. Neither does the heartbroken drunk, who outrageously enough expects the poor patrons to listen to his or her snivelling miseries, make a very positive imprint in the end. The list can go on and on but worse of them all, and a character with who I would like to rest my case, is that self-absorbed wannabe type who can be adressed as the identity-seeking prick.
This superficially stupid category of women and men behind the bar takes the ultimate prize because these people almost make me want to stay at home just sipping freaking tea. Scarred by an anxious obsession of finding their personal expression and style of life, these arrogant nonentities exploit their workplace as a way of distancing themselves from other social categories. Nothing can be further away from the fundamental values of working behind a bar. And they seem to pop up everywhere as well, these reversed fridges transmitting outward cold. But most likely you will find them annoyed by your presence in the “creative” clusters located in or mimicking the world’s leading metropoles. It could be that Parisian natural wine cave where the avantgardist will burst into tears if your middle name is not Gamay but it could as easily happen in a Portland brewpub where the passive-aggressive beer-beard will give you a scolding for choosing a bright lager instead of his favourite bacon- and celery flavoured stout. I think you recognise the type.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Yannis doesn't seem to play that game. Such silly charades appear as distant countries for him. But to swiftly simplify him and his bar as a service-minded cliché is however not correct. Neither is it enough. Galaxy is more than just a pleasing banality and it doesn't necessarily have to be for everyone. An athenian subculture on its own, the fabled bar next to Stadiou has always been a rarefied sanctuary for the city’s clerisy of journalists, writers and such. They have been coming here in search of something they can all agree upon and although the city’s downtown has seen its changes through the years they have all remained passionately loyal to their bar. Naturally, this has resulted in a culturally distanced positioning of some sort and because of that ritzy flair which old-school cocktail culture in general may bring about, Galaxy could be mistaken for a bar where acceptance and kinship could be hard for an outsider to attain. But nothing could be further from the truth. Once roaming that galaxy, forever up in there! Mr Yannis will see to that. Always dapper, sharp and accommodating, he is the type of bartender who remembers what choice of single malt you had back in 1999 and for him this is important because he knows that we are all equal parts of his small superb and spiked Milky Way. And this is the secret my friends, the small box of wisdom that he holds behind the bar. And this is what makes him superior to all the hacks. Just follow the statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis and see for yourself.
Where? Galaxy, Stadiou 10, Athens, 105 62, Greece.