Vasilis Kyritsis Makes Serving Hospitality His First Priority
Vasilis Kyritsis was 18 years old and studying to become a nurse when he worked his very first shift behind the bar in hopes of earning a little extra cash. But the money wasn’t the only thing that drew him to the job. “I loved that job from first sight because I really like to have relationships with different people, and that was a nice chance to do it,” he says. What started as a gig ended up becoming a lifelong career: Kyritsis fell in love with the craft, and started experimenting with fresh ingredients in a cocktail era that was still ruled in part by pre-packaged mixes.
Now, over a decade later, Kyritsis is a contender for the 2017 Best International Bartender Spirited Award, and co-owns the world-renowned Athens bar, The Clumsies, with Nikos Bakoulis, who began his hospitality career around the same time as Kyritsis. (Both Kyritsis and Bakoulis are also Greek World Class winners: the former in 2012, and the latter in 2011.) Bakoulis initially found his specialty in wine, but was so intrigued by the quality and potential of cocktail culture that he made the switch. In 2012, the duo opened The Clumsies as a high-energy, high-volume hangout “with cool vibes and high-end drinks,” as Kyritsis says, open from dawn until way past dusk (the bar also serves breakfast and coffee in the mornings). “The Clumsies looks like a big house, and as a house we try to first ‘serve’ hospitality,” Bakoulis explains, adding that their cocktail program prioritizes a tightly focused concept and a flair for the experimental. Apparently their strategy is working: The Clumsies is currently ranked ninth on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list.
One might think that operating one of the world’s best high-volume cocktail bars keeps you busy, but somehow, the pair manages to make time for other projects, like recently leading a Cherry Heering masterclass in April. “We did great tastings with Heering, old-school bitters, new age bitters, different spirits, combinations with stuff that you can find in markets,” says Kyritsis. “It was a fancy way for the bartenders to understand the amazing and beautiful combinations [you] can have with a liqueur so complex and so old with rich history.” The brand will celebrate its bicentennial in 2018, and to celebrate, they’re hosting a series of educational workshops and masterclasses by bartenders, for bartenders in more than 60 cities around the globe. When the tour came to Athens, Vasilis and his bar were a given.
This year, Bakoulis and Kyritsis also launched their own vermouth brand, Otto’s, which took about two-and-a-half years from initial concept to market launch. (The spirit is a delicate, rose-hued floral blend of almost entirely Greek ingredients.)
As innovative and passionate luminaries in their field, Kyritsis and Bakoulis have a lot of wisdom to share. One thing they both encourage bartenders to do: expand your perspective by traveling. “I believe the key point to upgrading my skills was to travel a lot in different countries trying to discover their culture, tasting combinations in restaurants, and speaking with other bartenders around the world,” says Kyritsis. “The most important thing in this job is to open your eyes and your mind.” Bakoulis agrees: “I follow a lot of seminars and I travel around the world because this is, for me, the biggest lesson for the bartender,” he says.
And, as hospitality professionals, they both agree that a bartender’s attitude can make or break a guest’s experience, no matter how good the drinks are. “The basic skill that a bartender has to show for me is not to be miserable, which means that he or she always tries to find solutions to the problems that a bar can face, and to have positive energy behind the bar,” Kyritsis says. “A smile is the most important thing to make your guests trust you.” In fact, Bakoulis explains that the workflow and bar setup at The Clumsies was engineered with this in mind: the morning “lab shift” preps for the more complicated drinks behind the scenes, so that during busy evening shifts, bartenders are able to not only serve drinks faster, but also have more time to interact with guests. “Our bartenders have the time to smile, serve, and have their head up for [making] eye contact,” Bakoulis says.
As for taking your craft to the next level, Bakoulis says, it’s all about networking and collaborating. “Work really closely with different professionals or legends and different companies: this way, the bartender starts to combine the diversity of all those elements and the result is to create multitasking skills,” he says. “If you combine those things with travels around the world and keep your mind open, you can [achieve] the next level of bartender.”
Perhaps most importantly? Don’t expect to achieve overnight success, and don’t forget that success is often the result of many, many small failures along the way. “As our food scientist at The Clumsies told me one time, 98 percent of your tests fail and only two percent give amazing results,” says Kyritsis. “It is a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, so be patient and keep trying.”
- 45 ml London dry gin
- 15 ml Cherry Heering
- 30 ml Clarified pineapple juice
- 0.4 gr Citric acid
- 1 pinch salt
- 5 ml Benedictine reduction
- 100 ml Coconut water
Prep: Chill all your ingredients and put them into a chilled cream siphon . Put a soda charger in and de-gas it. Then, put one more charger and create carbonation. After five minutes, open it, and serve straight into a chilled highball glass — the way you would serve champagne.