New Yorkers may claim otherwise, but Athens is the real city that never sleeps.
Athens evenings typically begin with the tempting colors and exuberant flavors of mezédhes (essentially the Greek equivalent of tapas): aubergine salad, grilled prawns, artichokes and cheese croquets and more. Locals and tourists collect in big groups because Greeks love parea (company). Sitting on the roof terrace of the restaurant Kouzina, it seems as though you can reach out and touch the moon and the Acropolis.
Forget the stodgy moussaka and fatty lamb dishes you find in Greek restaurants throughout the world; the young Greek chefs of Athens have done a great job reinstating their grossly underestimated cuisine. At the restaurant Apla Arestera/Dexia, you can enjoy exquisite creations such as sweet ravioli with lemon mousse. But old favorites of succulent braised beef or tender calamari from Mamacas are the best – and the views of famous guests are free.
My Greek friends explain which of their country’s magnates are doing what with which models. They point to a beautiful girl who is apparently the latest flame of popular Greek singer Yannis Ploutarchos, who will play tonight in Club Romeo, a bouzouki bar on the edge of town. On the spot we decide to go there and hail a taxi. The atmosphere is hot when we arrive. Lesser gods have been warming up the crowd but when our star hits the stage at 2.30 am, the house erupts in a feel-good frenzy and every available place is used for dancing. Chairs, tables, the bar and the stage.
Even the men have an elegant way of shaking their tummies to the pacy eastern-influenced music. Everyone knows the ballads word for word. At around 5 am we go back to town unable to talk. Our throats are sore from screaming, laughing and singing. Still, it seems a shame to go to sleep. New Yorkers may claim otherwise, but Athens is the real town that never sleeps.
The traders at central market are already unloading swordfish and beef. It is just daylight and the day is starting for some. But in the Stoa Ton Athanaton, (a dark pub in the marketplace) the night hangs on. The strains of Rebetiko singer Leila Papadopoulou signal that it's not quite time to go home. She starts on another Greek blues song for an audience who don’t know when to stop and would not if they did. Call-girls, taxi drivers, and wasted night-people tuck into patsas, a stew of pig’s entrails; a traditional after-hours meal. One day flows into the next and one wonders whether Athens will ever rest.
However big your hangover, there is no lie-in on Sunday mornings in Athens. While the rest of the town may seem lethargic, Avyssinia Square is already busy with the local weekly flea market. The market fans across the area and is a great place for picking up musical instruments, rare books, antiques and war medals. Religious kitsch, inlaid backgammon boards, and handmade Jesus sandals are just a few of the must-haves. Celebrating their new purchases, 20 and 30-somethings sip the day’s first retsina in a family-run restaurant. A house band plays music from the 1930s, and before we know it another evening is in full swing.
You can now earn a commission on every travel booking. Sign up or learn more now.