Ancient Athens’ golden glory may be the reason why the city’s vibrant present is often overlooked by visitors. Its inhabitants, though, don’t like to dwell on the past. Well, sort of..
It’s been a few years now that the city’s modest old neighbourhoods, like the once unwelcoming industrial Gazi (Gas in English), have been given a new lease of life courtesy of a vast choice of modern restos and bars. But when faced with a grim model of austerity, Athenians of all ages, trades and styles rebelled, revamped and livened up even more numb, forgotten corners of the city. This added great splashes of imagination and self-expression to the urban map. From experimental music compositions to exotic alcoholic concoctions, Athens’ old center is now packed with new ideas and alternatives for the monument-weary traveler.
The Arcade of Merchants, near Klafthmonos Square, and its characteristic kitschy collection of neon signs had been laying in obscurity for over 20 years until, in May 2014, the “Traces of Commerce” initiative filled it up with cooks and inventors, musicians and architects, technicians, designers and curators.
For a time period of 3-6 months, a different group of creatives come to galvanize the arcade, setting up shop for free in exchange for giving back to the people with workshops and events that heartily disseminate their know-how. The second phase of the project took up the arcade until mid-March 2015, building “New Creative Cells of Exchange”. Here you could mingle with puppeteers and theatre craftsmen at DollHouse, get a taste of do-it-yourself music production at Phase! & Orila Records, or watch the mouth-watering performances of the art group The Flower Girls, starring their sculptural edible flowers.
Drawing from the atmosphere of an old fair with a 180 degrees turn towards global culture and leisure, the multi-space Foire has completely revitalized a pink neoclassical building in Monastiraki. Here a mixed crowd gathers for distinctive Asian dishes, Ginger Cosmos cocktails in the leafy atrium, a taste of the current art scene in the exhibition space, or plain old dancing at the club.
Only a few steps away, the quaint Agias Irinis Square is the place to people-watch and savour a creamy Guatemalan espresso, if you wish. Tailor Made was inspired by the tailors and textile merchants that for years populated the area, pouring its expertise into brewing your perfect cup of coffee. It’s hard to catch this space in a moment of quiet, but you can always opt for takeaway and start exploring the historic churches, shops and arcades of the pedestrianized area.
Bear in mind that the multi-space Six D.O.G.S., adding avant garde notes to the old center with a project and gig space, bar and an ultra-relaxing all-day garden, lays not far from there. Whether you go for the comfy Swedish plywood seats or the handmade hammocks you can wind down with ice teas, homemade desserts or… the house special, six HOT d.o.g.s.
The classy, bistro-style Osterman, a stones throw from Tailor Made, matches old Athens with the memories of old Europe, serving praline-flavoured coffee, local wines and a cosmopolitan cuisine under its impressive high ceiling.
If you fancy the old European feel but have more of a taste for cocktails, 42 Bar on Kolokotroni Street, near Syntagma Square, is recommended hands-down for house-blends with fresh seasonal ingredients. The more traveling types will go for the vintage-style Baba Au Rum, on Kleitiou Street, that features “classic cocktails and twisted minds” and stocks varieties from Trinidad to the Barbados and Panama.
Kiki de Grèce, on the other hand, is a fictional Greek coquette that loves to spend time tasting a discerning list of wines and appetizers from around Greece, or you can follow the bar & cave à vin Heteroklito’s tour of Greek wine routes, where you can discover new producers and rare varieties at an affordable price.
This explosion of new tastes and addresses still can’t take the excitement off of the more spacious Gazi. The nomadic Meet Market, a collective of local independent creatives is often found at the impressive Technopolis industrial park, by the metro station, Kerameikos, on the weekends. There you can sway with the groovy beats of Black Athena, or get swayed by the handmade chocolates of Chocolart, the ceramics and porcelains (with themes from Greek history among others) of Vastdesign, the jewellery of Skinny Legs and the tees-like-a-summer-breeze of Lust Decade.
The nearby Gazarte is by now a classic, featuring live music by melodic Greek artists and Cameroonian jazzmen. Check-out the cozy couches for reading or savouring finger food, while enjoying the scenic terrace at the end of the day.
Written by Guest Contributor Danai Molocha for EuropeUpClose.com
Danai Molocha is a music and travel writer based in London. She may spontaneously fly to a mountainous Portuguese village just to visit a good festival, or take hours to compile the perfect soundtrack to a road trip in the ragged landscape of southern Greece.