I traveled to Athens one year ago to attend an international travel bloggers conference sponsored by TBEX to learn the ins and outs of travel blogging. The experience was interesting and highly productive. I got to take a travel writing course with well-known travel writer David Farley, listen to experts in the travel industry share what was important for travel bloggers to relate, meet some of the most popular international bloggers and get inside information of the special places to explore in this historic city. The first night some of the "in the know" bloggers suggested we meet at Brettos, the oldest bar in the Plaka, to sample Greek ouzo, eat mezzes and engage in good conversation. I was game. What I experienced that night set the tone for my memorable trip to Athens.
Michael Bretto started making Greek spirits when he opened his establishment in 1909 creating craft liqueurs, brandies and ouzo from his secret recipes. Thirty six different types of colorful liqueurs are offered here with many of them-- 25-- only available to drink and buy from Brettos. Pomegranate, mint, apple, watermelon, raspberry, kumquat, cinnamon and coffee are some of the flavors of these specialty liqueurs which cost $5 per glass. My impression was Brettos could make a liqueur out of most any type of flavor. Besides the homemade brandies and ouzo, an extensive list of red and white Greek wines are available for tasting before deciding on your selection. A glass of wine is priced at $18.75.
The minute you go inside and see the beautiful shelves of brightly colored liqueur bottles you know this place is fun and unique. Though relatively small, it is comfortable with its counter seating which is great for the solo traveler. The friendly staff helps you decide what you would like to order from the extensive spirits menu. The only food available are small platters of cheese, olives and sliced salami, perfect side dishes to compliment your spirit selection.
I knew what I wanted to try, ouzo, the specialty drink of the Greeks. I had read about this anise-flavored liqueur in my pre-trip research. I knew it was strong, tasted like licorice but it was loved by locals and foreigners alike for it's unique flavor and mood-lifting properties. Distilled from the must or remnants of pressed wine grapes with a potency of around 40%-50% alcohol makes this drink fiery in nature. Typically, it is mixed with water and served over ice in a small glass which you consume slowly while you enjoy your mezzes. There's no bottoms up with ouzo or you will be bottoms down drunk fast.
Ouzo drinking is said to be an art, a way of life for the Greeks. Each town or village has their own special brand. There is an old Greek saying that "ouzo makes the spirit," which leads to Kefi, that good feeling that manifests itself in lively conversation, singing, dancing and overall well-being. Unhurried conversation with the social drinking of ouzo is quintessentially Greek and a mainstay of their culture. An added benefit is the healing nature of this drink. It is believed to help cure an upset stomach or a splitting headache.
For nearly two hours, I savored ouzo with my fellow travel bloggers. We compared facts on what to do and where to go in Athens, exchanged personal info which lead to us finding our Kefi. Enjoying the moment with new acquaintances is one of the pleasures of solo travel. Taking the time to relish in what the day brings is an important life lesson that travel teaches you. Drinking ouzo at Brettos was one of those memorable Kefi moments.