VIP Club Live: On the edge of the Aegean Sea
Even the alphabet is exotic; the sign at the airport says "Αθήνα". I'd never been to Greece, but obviously I'd been reading and hearing about it since, well, Robert McEwan read the entire Odyssey ("Ὀδύσσεια") to my fourth-grade class over the course of the school year. And now I was eating a chicken souvlaki sandwich on a shady side street in Athens, a stone's throw from the Acropolis.
VIP Club Live parties, they can take you to some interesting places.
The chief VIP Club Live organizer, Dylan, had found a "nightclub" called Balux Prive on a long beach that serves as the chief entertainment district for Athens. I put nightclub in quotes because you may have the wrong image - I know I did. As befits a place that has hot weather in the day and warm weather at night, the club is really a terraced gathering area with a roof but no walls. And the Aegean literally laps up under the terrace.
Turns out another part of the club has a swimming pool right in the middle but Dylan decided that, well, little good could come from that. I suspect he was right. And honestly who needs a swimming pool when there's the real saltwater article right there?
So at 10:00pm on the dot, the doors opened and people poured in. 10:00pm? We were fortunate to have PokerStars Team Online Pro Katerina Malasidou with us; she explained that with the hot weather, nobody wants to go out in the "early" evening. So things kick off a bit later than they do in cooler climes. "So when's it going to wind down?" "Oh, I would think 3:00 or 4:00am. But maybe later - we can all go for breakfast?"
VIP Club Live parties, they can take you to some interesting times.
As always, there was plenty for the attendees to do and see. As they walked in, glasses of champagne were pressed into their hands and they could have a PokerStars baseball cap custom embroidered with their names. Jugglers and magicians worked through the crowd...
And then imagine my astonishment to see legendary tournament grinder Alan Kessler quietly sipping a drink and enjoying the music and soft evening air.
Okay, it wasn't Alan Kessler, but I wasn't the only one who did a double-take.
VIP Club Live parties, they can take you to some interesting thoughts.
Things started to heat up when DJ Maggie Haralambidou got behind the decks and cranked up the music. Not, of course, that poker players dashed out on the dance floor, but they started bobbing their heads as they played foosball.
And this is a good place to point out the difference in "vibe" of this party compared to others I've attended. Maybe it's the culture of a truly hot climate, maybe it's something in the Greek DNA, but there was a distinctly mellow feel to the gathering. Sure, they took advantage of the open bar to have a beer or a mixed drink. But they also happily munched on the meatballs and sushi being passed around, competed at memory contests, and got pictures made that had light annotations (you'd have to see it).
Right up until about 1:30am, when Katerina Stikoudi came on. Now, I'd never heard of her but she's a proper Big Deal in Greece, and it wasn't hard to see why. I mean, she's used to much bigger venues and bigger crowds, but she worked like it was an audition for Justin Timberlake. For over half an hour, she sang and danced non-stop, taking absolutely no prisoners.
Now, Ms. Stikoudi's music is not really my bag. But there was a, shall I say "Springsteenian" approach to the gig. She had a job to do and was going to do it, regardless of the size of the audience. That impressed me and many folks with whom I spoke.
After Katerina had left the stage, the energy in the room returned to, if not its original mellow level, one step above it. It was pushing past 2:00am and there was a good wee-hours buzz on the place. Dylan and I decided that we couldn't resist any longer and waded into the Aegean Sea.
Finally, as it slipped past 3:00am, the staff began to take down the various entertainment booths, the bar quietly closed up, and the PokerStars-themed balloons were retrieved from the beach.
"What's this?" wondered one of the party-goers. "This is when we start to really party." If we ever come back to Athens, I'm going to accept that bet. Dylan, me, and Katerina Malasidou, we're going to take some people to breakfast at 7:00am. That's a promise.
But for this time around, it was handshakes and high-fives all around as the real VIPs of PokerStars, our players, slipped out into the evening, and we found a cab back to the hotel. And it was still dark.
Good night Athens - see you next time.
Lee Jones is the Director of Poker Communications at PokerStars and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.