Kona Kai – Athens Marriott Hotel
I was doing my usual pre-holiday internet search for Tiki bars prior to our Greek vacation when I was amazed to see that a Polynesian restaurant existed in Athens, and that it was a Kona Kai! I’d assumed that Kona Kai’s had died out years ago, so it was a huge surprise to find one in the ‘cradle of civilisation’.
We found the 5 star Marriott Hotel on a busy main road in the shadow of the Acropolis, and since we’d been walking for half an hour in the unrelenting Athenian sun, we were ready for a cocktail. To our horror, we found that at 2:30 in the afternoon, it wasn’t due to open for another five hours. We went down to the basement where the Kona Kai was located anyway, and could see that was a superb, if rather modern-looking Tiki Bar. If it had just been any old bar with a Tiki name, we probably would have left it at that, but we could tell it was something of a European classic. I went upstairs and asked the bellboy if I take some photos, and he was happy for me to do so, but was unable to switch on the lights, so I nipped back down to try my luck in the dark.
I was taken aback to find the large wooden sliding door was unlocked, and walked into the gloom, camera at the ready. I took a few photos at what looked to be Tikis, but as I went farther in, the light just ran out, and I hadn’t a clue where I was in the restaurant. As I didn’t want to kick off the holiday in handcuffs, I made my way back out and tried my luck with the front desk. The guy at the desk seemed intrigued and quite happy for me to take some photos for the website, but then he phoned somebody to confirm it, and it turned out to be the sales department. My heart sank. I knew if anyone was going to be on a power trip, it would be sales, so I went upstairs for my little meeting with the feeling that I was wasting my time. This turned out to be the case when I was asked to give them the website address for vetting, then they would send me some digital photos via e-mail if it was deemed to be useful to the Marriott. I’m still waiting for the photos…….
But fuck ‘em. Trader Woody isn’t going to be defeated that easily, so a couple of weeks later, disguised with newly tanned skin from time spent island-hopping, we headed back to the Kona Kai for our final evening in Greece. After zooming through the lobby like a pair of shoplifters eager not to be noticed, we made it down the elevator, where the Kona Kai was lit and open for business. We weren’t eating, as we’d been backpacking around the islands, and had already gone through far too many Euros, so we just settled down at the bar. Jo had a Pina Colada, described as being the best she’d ever tasted, while I had the bartenders special, a Honolulu something or other, served in a large bamboo-shaped glass.
As we settled down, we were able to take in the Kona Kai. It was obviously fairly new for a Tiki bar, and lacked the nautical bit’s & pieces found in most. As part of a 5 star hotel, the Kona Kai was very tastefully & sparingly decked out, but the overall look was very impressive. The famous Kona Kai pacific wall scenes were there and really look amazing lit up and stretching all down one side of the restaurant. I only hope my photos can do them justice, as they really look amazing. The Tiki statues were large and imposing, and at the more primitive simplistic end of the scale for the most part. The centrepiece was a wonderful vast Hawaiian Tiki with a waterfall each side. Gaugin prints adorned the walls while the background music was perfect mellow Hawaiian. Each table had a super-cool lamp based on the classic Kona Kai mug, as well as superb salt & pepper shakers.
Back at the bar, there was a decent selection of Tiki mugs on show, but it was obvious that the classic Kona Kai mugs had long since vanished. The bartender revealed that it was getting increasingly difficult to get mugs at all. They had managed pretty well though, with a selection ranging from green-eyed Tikis to coconut mugs to wahine mugs.
They also used a couple of pseudo Mr Bali Hai mugs as containers. Our cocktails were served with Kona Kai stirrers spearing chunks of pineapple & cherry, and we were presented with a large dish of nuts and prawn crackers to munch on.
After a little while, the bartender mentioned that he and the manager had been checking out my Aloha shirt, which was covered in Tikis. It turned out that they had vast difficulties in getting decent shirts and ended up getting a bunch at Lilleywhites in London! We got talking and he gave us the history of the Kona Kai, which in potted form goes something like this: The Athens Kona Kai was built in 1984 modelled on the American Kona Kai chain. As the KK’s in the States became unfashionable and dwindled, the Kona Kai in Athens took off in fine style, quickly becoming one of Athens’ most popular restaurants. It was the first restaurant to introduce Polynesian, Chinese & Japanese cuisine to Greece and continues to be a hit with the rich of Athens. The Athenians particularly like to go there in the winter, where they like to feel cocooned. In the summer, they prefer outdoor restaurants, unless it’s exceptionally hot, when the Kona Kai’s air-con comes in handy. The locals are also not so keen on the cocktails preferring the classic spirits & mixer combinations. We also talked about Trader Vic’s (the bartender had been there), along with many other aspects of Tiki, so it was a joy to talk to a staff member who really had an interest in his job!
We finally had to go as we’d a plane to catch, but the barman gave me a selection of Kona Kai sticks, one of each colour they had, and I took a few more photos on the way out. (To be posted soon)
Anyway, by the looks of things the Kona Kai will be there for some years yet so make sure you wind down with a cocktail there after a hot day at the Acropolis if you can make it to Athens.