Old Habits Die Hard in Athens – Part 2
Laterna, the Soundtrack of Old Athens
Just a few notes of a laterna – the traditional street organ of Greece – are enough to fill locals with nostalgia. If you’re not from around here, the music will fill you with a familiar sweetness you’ll be unable to place. Nowadays, you’ll only find laternas being played in the streets of Plaka, giving off romantic, often melancholic sounds.
Coffee, a Greek Habit for the Ages
Coffee seems to have always been present in this city. The most traditional method of preparation, hovoli Greek coffee, uses an open-fire sand pit, and it’s currently making an impressive comeback. Find it in traditional kafeneia and cafés, taste it, smell it, let it awake your nose and taste buds. They say that it takes a cup of traditional coffee for friends to confess their biggest secrets and for lovers to confess their deepest feelings. A well-hidden treasure of a traditional kafeneio which will serve you time-honoured Greek coffee accompanied by Turkish delight or spoon sweets is Oraia Hellas (39 Mitropoleos & 36 Pandrosou Arcade). Climb the steps to discover a beautiful old-fashioned balcony from where you can people-watch the pedestrians in Plaka while sipping your coffee.
In addition to Greek coffee, though, locals’ passion for the drink that wakes you up better than any other extends to more modern preparations too: cappuccino, freddoccino, espresso and of course frappe coffee – instant coffee shaken with cold water and ice, a Greek invention – can be sampled in the city centre as well as at an increasing number of places across the city.
The Silver Screen goes Retro
If you’re in Athens in the spring or summer, don’t leave until you’ve visited an open-air cinema! It doesn’t matter what you’re watching. It could be a long-awaited blockbuster or the reissue of an old film, or even an art-house movie. It’s the atmosphere that will reward you, as it feels like you’re in an old film yourself. Open-air “summer” cinemas such as Thiseion on Apostolou Pavlou in Thiseio or the elevated Cine Paris in Plaka with its view of the Acropolis (which can even make up for a mediocre film!) are must-go destinations on your Athenian adventure.
Grooming and Chatting
If you want to pamper yourself in Athens, traditional barbers are a very good option. Barbershops used to be places for social and political discussion for men, an essential hub of typical neighbourhoods of yesteryear – a type of kafeneio which substituted backgammon and coffee with the smell of after-shave. There are few traditional barbers’ left – one of which in the Korai arcade – but you’ll also find new-school barbershops in Athens, which simulate the décor and vibe of the old ones but offer a range of state-of-the-art grooming services (Don Barber & Groom, 16 Amerikis & Valaoritou, Kolonaki / 1900 The Barber Shop, 35 Ypsilantou & Ploutarchou, Kolonaki).
What’s Kolokotronis Pointing To?
A regular meeting spot for groups of friends about to embark on an Athens evening out is right in front of the statue of Kolokotronis on Stadiou Avenue. You’ll often hear locals joking that the Greek general is pointing straight to the arcade across the street – to one of the most emblematic bars in Athens, Galaxy, with loyal patrons, jazz music and a bar that’s better than a psychotherapist’s couch. One thing’s for sure: If Woody Allen knew about Galaxy, he’d shoot his next film here, in this bar of this city that never stops looking for new excitement in old hangouts and classic values.