Behind every success story, there is a personality. We tend to focus on the outcome, the milestones of every success persona, but often lose focus of the human factor, the character, history and beliefs. Chrysanthos Panas, together with his brother Spyros, are behind the iconic Island, Zonars and Salon de Bricolage, to name a few, both visionaries with an impeccable work ethic, they have shaped and reformed the Athenian entertainment & hospitality scene. Chrysanthos, foresaw and came up with the term #AthensRiviera and now, along with his brother, they are focused on #AthensRevival: reviving the Athenian neighborhood around the Acropolis perimeter, back to its original glory!
For the past two decades, I have been incredibly lucky to call Chrysanthos my friend and been to every single one of his entertainment venues. So, before I lay down his success story in this interview, I would like to say the following: his friendship has had a big impact on my life, as he has loved and supported me, unconditionally, ever since the very first day we met. From his getting my mum’s permission to chaperone me on various nights out, to advising me on love dramas and disappointments, to being the very first to encourage me to start my own blog, to introducing me to Valentino and landing me an interview with Jack Pierson, to throwing me the best party at Zonars, the most elegant and sophisticated bar / restaurant in Athens. So, THANK YOU “Panas mou” for always believing in me and for being such a positive influence in my life.
I happened to interview him, right on his birthday, at Foyer, the bar of Pallas Theater. We had Martinis, laughed and talked for hours… As we’ve been doing so for years, and I wish to continue to write about his success stories, have martinis with him & enjoy his magical hubs of entertainment for many more years to come!
How did you get involved with entertainment?
Both my brother and I have always loved parties, since we were kids. I myself was very sociable, even at school, while my brother, Spyros, was a DJ and he liked playing music. In summer, we used to vacation in Kavouri, swim, do sports at the Nautical Club of Vouliagmeni and attend the parties there. We made the NOV’s very first bar, behind our parents’ backs! I was 20 years old, studying Business Administration. and my brother Spyros, 22 years old, studying at the Technical University of Athens. We got involved in this project with a kind of excitement that had nothing to do with the business aspect itself, but rather with entertainment and creativity.
The Bar at the NOV became an instant hit; for sure, we had the knack for it, but I believe this derived from influences and stimulations we had from our family. My grandmother was very good at painting, she was an artist really, and trained at Parthenis Art Studio. In the house where we live with my wife, in the center of Athens, (and which, incidentally, got recently featured in AD Spain) we have several of her paintings, among which a portrait of Liszt, one of the most distinguished romantic composers, which she drew in 1924. Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in the city of Paris, has a statue of my great-grandfather’s brother, who was the first to establish Ophthalmology as a discipline. My father’s family dates back to 1300 and has origins in Spain, as “Panas” comes from the Spanish word “Pana” and our family heirloom is now engraved at the entrance of Zonars! These are things I don’t usually talk about, as they might sound snobbish or pretentious, but at the end of the day, I have come to realize that it is this family information that links you to who you are.
So, at the age of 20 and 22, we set up our first bar and four years later, when our father died, we decided to really get involved in this business and invested in Island.
In 1994, Island was born on what we call today #AthensRiviera. Although people tell me today that it’s the best location, at that time, it was a real bet to bring people down there, an area that had been secluded. In this property of 46 acres, our main concern was to emphasize nature and really respect / protect the environment. So, despite the young of our age, we used biological cleaning and the whole garden landscape we created, which really looks like a jungle, is solely made of Mediterranean plants. We focused on keeping the local character and vibe of the place. Actually, this is something that should be promoted more on other greek destinations, such as Mykonos, where extravagance has undermined the local color of the island. Greece has a lot of folklore: donkeys, pelicans, beautiful women in kaftans and fishermen in beret hats and those elements should be enhanced, because ultimately, it is them that make us unique.
My brother and I focused on “destination management” so many years ago. Marketing wise, we never followed trends. Our venue has eminent greek aesthetics and, through the years, it has evolved and become more contemporary. We have always known that the location of Island is one of a kind and constantly seek to promote Island abroad. We made sure that there were events with celebrities, such as the Tommy Hilfiger party, another one with all the Sex & the City cast and Hugh Jackman in 2006, while in 2008, we hosted a great party for the Mamma Mia cast; everyone was there, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth!
Island. began as a restaurant and a nightclub and today, it has evolved into a resort with 4 (four) different points of accommodation, among which the “Private House”, a beautiful villa in the compound and our latest addition, the “Grand Ciel”, the largest event space in Athens, already prebooked for various Posidonia Events. Here in Island, we want events to turn into real Festivals. Just as in “Cannes Film Festival”, people go there not only for the films, but also for the Chopard, Rolex, or Grey Goose parties; Poseidonia should be no exception and should become an opportunity for sports, arts, and commercial events.
Is there a recipe to your success?
Ever since the beginning, my brother Spyros & I believed that our line of business was integrated with culture – it was never just about having fun. In the greek language, we have two different words for “fun”: “ψυχαγωγια” for “leisure” that translates to “elevating the soul” and “διασκεδαση” for “ entertainment”, which actually means “to get scattered / to lose oneself”… Even in ancient times, people used to gather around the table, eat, drink in order to get their senses stimulated and participate in philosophical discussions; so, the importance of entertainment is also evident in Plato’s Symposium. Nowadays, I believe it is significant to contribute to elevating souls, rather than only scattering emotions and we aim to create venues that give people the opportunity to do just that!
In 2001, we created the infamous “Dragoste” that had some major dose of magic…. It was a place where you could both elevate your soul and also get lost in its spell, it didn’t follow any trend, but rather created one. The crowd was very different than in any other place at that time, as it was filled with artists, actors, musicians, painters, who were writing and drawing on the walls. It also had a fortuneteller that did tarot reading all night!…
Places of entertainment create culture… Think of Studio 54 , everybody remembers it as the ultimate place of fun & entertainment, but it is also where Pop-Art was cultivated, as Andy Warhol and so many other important artists were hanging out there. An entertainment venue can cultivate new trends, it can contribute to reshaping culture, as long as the people behind the venue are cultured, as well. I embrace anything that is new and of good quality – I don’t care about being the only one who is doing well; what I do care about is being part of a market that is doing well as a whole. Quality is not always expensive, especially here in Athens, which is a blessed capital, where you can have a good quality of life within a reasonable budget. You can take your girlfriend for a swim in the sea, where the waters are crystal clear, you can enjoy fresh seafood at a tavern, have a beer and watch the sunset. There is no other capital where you can swim for free and eat great food at such a low budget! You just need to know where to find these things and educate yourself towards a quality way of living.
Zonars has an iconic history and, as Zonar’s daughter told me herself, it became well-known and a huge success as a bar / restaurant and not as a coffee place, as a lot of people remember it. People used to go there, dine, have cocktails and dance at night. It became a café in its decadent years, during the 70’s. I want to revive it back to its golden years, turn it into a contemporary, sophisticated bar / restaurant with European character, like Hotel Costes, L’Avenue or Annabel’s. It is not only about its name and brilliant history, but also about its great location. Next to the emblematic building of Grande Bretagne Hotel, the beautiful Army Pension Fund building and opposite the Sun Melathron building, designed by Ziller and considered one of his best works. So, Zonars is actually situated amongst the best buildings in Athens!
Lets talk about your new passion #AthensRevival
As with #AthensRiviera that became a destination, our next aim is #AthensRevival! We want to establish a really strong and attractive city center that will include all the quality places. This neighborhood around Zonars has the most well-known, luxury boutiques: Hermes, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Bvlgari and greek brands, such as Kessarris, Vourakis, Soho Soho and many more new upcoming arrivals. So, in a way, it is becoming the new Kolonaki. Because in the old good times, Kolanaki area was not only about nice buildings and stores, it was also the location, where you could find artists and poets, such as Nanos Valaoritis. Fast forward nowadays, authors, like Kiki Dimoula, come to Zonars to hang out! And so do so many more artists, such as Dionisis Fotopoulos, my uber-talented friend and my best-man, Constandinos Markoulakis, as well as Smaragda Karidis, Theodoridis Atheridis, Dimitra Papadopoulou, who is starring in the theatre play “Madame Shoushou”, a huge success with 1600 tickets sales per day!
I believe Kolonaki is starting to lose its appeal and I wanted to be part of a new upcoming neighborhood, reminiscent of the old good Athens. That’s why we transferred our projects into the city center. And because of that, we support all the brands and venues in this area, even my competition. I want us all to grow and revive this neighborhood in the best possible way!
Zonars is our flagship venue, and our other projects in this area are located in City Link, the arcade of “Spyros Milios”. Arcades should also become a trend in Athens, as it happens abroad, since here we have some beautiful ones! Our favorite one, obviously, being the one of “Spyros Milios”, where City Bitro is situtated, an all-day casual bistrot, with comfort food, as well as Bar de Theatre.
Bar de Theatre took its name from the fact that in this neighborhood, there are ten (10) theaters! After their show, actors used to scatter and go to the areas of Kolonaki, Gazi or Exarcheia, but now all of them meet in one place! Bar de Teatre is run by director Labis Zaroutiadis and actors Alkis Kourkoulos & Costas Koklas and it has a crowd even on a Monday or Tuesday night, as theaters now run on both days! Where else can you find a good artistic crowd on a Tuesday night? Our goal for next year – and I’m personally involved and collaborate with the Ministry of Culture about it – is to introduce English subtitles in theatres, so that visitors from abroad can enjoy our beautiful shows. After all, Greece is the country where theater originated from, and foreigners should definitely be able to attend theatre plays here!
Our latest project is Foyer Bar, at Pallas Theatre, an art-deco place, really impressive, from which you can see the Grande Bretagne, Athens’ epic luxury Hotel. Carla Bruni and her husband Sarcozy visited it after her performance in Pallas Theatre and then, went for dinner at Zonars. They both very much enjoyed their stay here, with the highlight being Sarcozy jogging around Athens! I also gifted Carla Bruni one of my wife’s, Elena Syraka, pendants from her respective collection “Nur”, which Carla Bruni loved and called it her lucky charm! These high-profile visits are very important for our city, because the send the message abroad that our capital is slowly and steadily reviving and that it is a safe place to be. We should all work together and united in order to ensure this city’s greater good!
What gets you inspired?
My primary source of inspiration derives from art, such as painting, which may not be directly related to my work. To me, art is very important; it is a source of inspiration and my brother and I try to incorporate it in every aspect of our work. For instance, in Island, the restaurant menu has been designed by Vasilis Fotopoulos, a family friend of ours, who has been awarded with a Scenography Oscar for Zorba the Greek.
Then, I get inspired by nature and its energy. It is not by chance that, in the Golden Age of Perikles, Athens was booming around the Acropolis perimeter or that Thoukididis was born in Alimos, which is part of the #AthensRiviera. And it is also there, on the Astir beach, (which will become Four Seasons this year) that a Temple of Apollo was built 2500 years ago. The light and the energy there is really unique! The sea and the energy around the Acropolis, including the Syntagma Square and city center, are this city’s greatest aspects!
We already have affiliations in London and from next year on, we will have our own venue in Mayfair. We are also looking in other European cities for future projects. Salon de Bricolage will re-open next year, next to City Bitro and Bar de Theatre; it will be for younger crowds that wish to go clubbing.
Hospitality is also a project that we would like to be involved with. But our main interest is to promote Athens as a destination, 365 days / year, either through #AthensRiviera or #Athensrevival.
We are ready for the new era of #AthensRiviera, which will be realized this summer with the opening of Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens. In collaboration with Starkk company, we now have two speed boats that will transfer our guests from Island to Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens to Portoheli, Spetses, Hydra and Mykonos. Island will also have a helipad, as well as two amazing luxury cars, an Aston Martin and a Bentley for VIP transfers.
A Vodkatini with Vermouth in Zonars – where else?!
Photo Credit: Aimilios Charalabous