She is the new face in the BCB team, but for connoisseurs of the industry certainly no longer an unknown quantity: Eleni Nikoloulia. The 35-year-old Athenian is, among other things, a partner of Difford's Guide Greece & Cyprus. She will now use her passion for bar culture and her numerous contacts within the industry as part of the BCB Education Board to offer visitors to this year's BCB a diverse stage programme. We spoke to her about her career in the bar world and what fascinates and motivates her.
BCB: Eleni, anyone who knows you knows how passionate you are about the bar industry. But where does this passion actually come from and how did you end up where you are today?
Eleni Nikoloulia: When I was 22, I became the editor-in-chief of a big city magazine. There was also a column there specifically for bars. At that time, however, there was no bar scene in Athens at all, so everyone on the team thought it was a waste of time and didn't want to take care of it – and so, to my displeasure, the column finally was left to me. So, I thought: let's just try it the right way. Instead of going to pubs and writing about happy hours, I started going to really good bars and discovered great drinks and creative ideas at those places that fascinated me. Then when "Baba au Rum" opened in Athens, a whole new era started with signature cocktails, homemade infusions and tiki cocktails.
And suddenly the enthusiasm was ignited?
Eleni: Oh yes, I fell in love with the creativity and art of the bar scene. As time went on, there were the first cocktail competitions where bartenders did all kinds of crazy things and served very fancy cocktails. That fascinated me and I was convinced very early on that I wanted to work in this industry my whole life.
Now you've been active in the bar industry for several years, including as a co-organiser for various events. How did you build up your broad network in the scene?
Eleni: I was a young girl at the time who was very fascinated by the work of bartenders. So, I started going to different bars several times a week. That's how I made contacts - first with bartenders, then with bar owners and finally with different brands. Then I met Denny Kallivoka, with whom I now co-run Difford's Guide for Greece and Cyprus.
And now you're part of the BCB Education Board. How did that come about?
Eleni: I met Damien Guichard almost a year ago on a press trip to Moscow. One evening we visited many bars together and tried a wide variety of cocktails. We hit it off right away, joking and discussing relevant topics of the industry – and of course BCB was one of them and I casually suggested things that could be added to BCB. One day he called me and said, "You know what? I've got an idea. Would you like to be part of the BCB Education Board?"
And what was your reaction to this offer?
Eleni: I was completely blown away. I could hardly believe it. That's one of the amazing things about our industry: when you love what you do, you never know where talking to someone about your passion can lead. A casual conversation with Damien in Moscow led me to become a member of the Education Board of the most relevant trade fair in the industry.
You've been to Bar Convent Berlin a lot. What are your most memorable BCB moments so far?
Eleni: I will never forget my first visit to BCB about eight years ago. It was the very first impression when the doors opened and you saw thousands of people from all over the world and big brands setting up amazing things. It was breathtaking. I've never seen such a big event in our industry.
Of course, there have also been an incredible number of seminars over the years that have been very helpful and incredibly inspiring, and I'm always looking for inspiration – as an organiser and especially as a journalist. Because what inspires me keeps me motivated.
What are you most looking forward to at this year's BCB?
Eleni: I believe that 2022 is a year of change, rebirth and rethinking everything that has happened in the past years, because there has been a big caesura. I'm very excited to see how this experience has impacted the industry – but in a positive way. And I'm looking forward to hearing a lot of different voices from the bar world addressing important issues that will inspire us all.
So, what inspires you the most?
Eleni: On my travels and at all the events I attend, I always meet many exciting personalities. Among all these people, there are always exceptions that you never forget. It can be someone from Latin America who has turned his bar into a farm. But it can also be a bar from Asia that has an amazingly large laboratory. There are always things I see that stick in my mind and I find it impressive to meet people who are doing great work and trying to push the industry even further in a variety of ways.
What factors make a good bar for you?
Eleni: I love the fact that every bar is a mix of different people and cultures and different styles from around the world. That alone is a cocktail in itself.
I'm fascinated by people who go above and beyond, who are happy to be in the industry, and who support their team no matter what. I love experiencing great hospitality and seeing authentic smiles. For me, it's not just about a drink, a fascinating bar or a fancy recipe – it's about being a good person.
Focusing purely on the drinks, what do you find most important to make a bar stand out in a positive way?
Eleni: I think consumers have taught us over the years that they always go back to the classics. Even though we would love to suggest a million fancy and very special recipes, guests always prefer the classics.
What I'm also seeing more and more in recent years is that bars are adding a touch of locality or regionality to their drinks. This can be an exciting local spirit as well as a herb or flower. The distinctive flavour adds a touch of their country and culture to the cocktails. After all, the world is full of numerous great cocktail bars. But what distinguishes a good bar in Greece from a good bar in New York? – It certainly won't be their Negroni or the music, but something else. And for me, that can be adding a touch of local culture, flavour or aroma to the drinks.
When you go to a bar, what are your drink favorites?
Eleni: I'm a big fan of the classics: for example, a very cold Dry Martini. But I also love Negronis and Margaritas – but no salt, please! (laughs) I'm one of those.
Can you mix these drinks yourself?
Eleni: I'm very lucky to be married to a former bartender. So fortunately, I don't have to make my own drinks. As you might imagine, we have a lot of bottles in our house (laughs).
Wonderful, cheers to that! Thank you so much for your time, Eleni. We're looking forward to this year's BCB with you!