It was 2007 when Athens began entering its hipster era. Up until then the areas of Monastiraki and Psirri were considered mostly touristic, where photo ops of enchanting ancient ruins and charming centuries-old buildings drew the crowds by the thousands. After having soared during the late 90’s to early 00’s, the neighbourhood of Psirri was in decline and was only kept afloat by the tens of veteran retail stores that established the old commercial centre of Athens.
Defined by the main streets of Ermou and Athinas, the city’s trading heart harbours the central food market, Varvakios Market, and its adjoining treasures of Evripidou Street. To this day it is dotted with small businesses offering all sorts of products and services: from fresh groceries, local herbs and spices to hardware, textile, leather and antique shops. At the dawn of the ‘10s, things were stirring around in Psirri. A small street named Protogenous first made its mark in 2010, as an emerging crowd of urban creatives began setting shop. Since then, it has become synonymous with Athenian vibrancy and is one of the city’s freshest turfs. Follow us as we stop by our favourite hangouts on Protogenous Street.
How to get there:
Hop off the metro at Monastiraki Metro Station and follow the signs towards Athinas Street exit. Once up the escalators, make a U-turn on your right and walk towards the back. Go down the steps and you’re on Miaouli Street, stepping on Psirri territory. Turn right and follow Miaouli for a couple hundred metres, Protogenous is the second street to your right.
First, we eat (and dance)
Painted on a small mural, “Death to all but pizza” is the first thing you read when you step into Crust. Next to it, a hooded skeleton figure holding a pizza cutter wheel. You guessed it, punk is the theme - English crust punk, to be exact. This Athenian favourite pizza parlour serves fresh wood-fired pizzas from late noon well into the early morning hours. Thin, saucy New York-style slices (¼ of a pizza) fly off the trays, topped with select ingredients from Greece and abroad. Try Snow White with parmesan cream, fresh mozzarella, wild mushrooms, Italian smoked dry pancetta, prosciutto cotto and parmesan flakes or Smoker with fresh mozzarella, caramelised onions, sygklino (smoked pork from Crete), peppers and cheddar on a spicy BBQ base sauce. If one slice doesn't cut it, go for a whole pizza (€3 for a slice, €13 for a whole pie). Don’t leave just yet. See that black door next to the mural we talked about? That leads down to the basement floor and to one of Athens’ sweatiest dancefloors and LGBTQ+ haunts, where local and international DJs are booked from October to May. Track Crust’s basement events on Facebook.
Feeling comfortably numb
Right next door lies Syd, one of Athens’ loudest new wave record stores. Named after Syd Barrett, co-founder of Pink Floyd, Syd houses a boutique selection of new and second-hand vinyl with a focus on the Greek alternative scene. “The vinyl revival is real, so the crowds are checking out what the fuss is all about, tracking down their old favourite albums, rare finds or new releases,” curator George Nikas says. A local musician and member to his share of successful Greek rock bands, you can definitely rely on his savvy recommendations. Ask him about the store’s decoration items, there’s a neat story behind each one. If you see something you like amongst the store’s great selection of merchandise and paraphernalia, make sure to grab it, it probably won’t be there next time.
Yet, Syd didn’t just come to be. It is actually the side-project of the team behind Barrett, one of Athens’ Gen Z meeting points. Musicians, DJs, artists and all kinds of creative figures flock to Barrett’s enclave, summoned by good music and strong cocktails. “The only secret I can share is that we make the best Paloma cocktail in town,” replies Chryssa Oikonomopoulou, one of the owners, when asked about the success story behind Protogenous’ most popular hangout. The bar’s latest addition is an open-air space across the street where you can soak up some sun rays over coffee or enjoy a (somewhat) quieter drink later in the day. The most coveted spot though is indoors, at the insta-worthy sofa under the “Cause we are the fishes” neon sign. The upper floor is used for temporary exhibitions and also leads to Barrett’s secret balcony where you’ll meet people in the know - just head for the WC and turn left.
Sleep on it
If what you’re reading so far makes you want to book a hotel as close to Protogenous as possible, how about right on it? The Fountain Athens boutique hotel opened in April 2022 and offers a more stylish accommodation alternative to the area's youthful crowds. At the reception, you are greeted by an impressive tree sculpture, titled The Fountain, that might look familiar - if you’re into Aronofsky. The hotel is, of course, named after the owner’s favourite film, and its aesthetics follow the movie’s concept; warm neon lighting, futuristic motifs with a splash of industrialism. “We appreciate how the area has kept its authenticity whilst being so contemporary and relevant to the young people,” the founders tell us. The restaurant and bar on the top floor are open all day and offer brunch until late in the afternoon when they switch to a Japanese Fusion menu paired with delicious cocktails.
Have a makeover, Athens-style
Seek for vintage clothing on Protogenous, and you shall certainly find. Treasure House on No.6 holds a vast selection of vintage Levis jeans as well as other brands, out of the private collection of owner George Karras. Like Yesterday’s on No.16 sells ‘70s dresses, accessories, faux bijoux and even wedding dresses. For more contemporary takes on local fashion, we stopped by one of our favourite Protogenous shopping spots. Anamnesi.co is an Athens-based brand of ready-to-wear womenswear with an edgy twist and a hint of nostalgia. Founder and main designer Angeliki loves to work with local artisans and young design professionals to create signature prints and one of a kind garments. Apart from the street’s fashion expert, Angeliki is also an amazing storyteller, ask her anything about the city.
To quote Fleabag, “hair is everything.” Back in 2010, hairdressers Nikos and Elena were looking for a spot in Athens to house their London Soho-meets-Berlin philosophy. Sensing the area’s potential, Lemon Poppy Seed landed on Protogenous in 2010 and joined in on the street’s creative ruckus with its long-night opening hours, weekly events, parties and thematic happenings, elevating the hair salon to its cult status of today. The duo’s highly wild and transforming coiffure skills are often exhibited during their outdoors events on Protogenous. “We love having visitors who fancy a change of style with a local touch while in Athens - it’s always so exciting!”, they exclaim.
Teamwork, love and eggs
And then there’s Tranzistor, the notoriously heartwarming all-day bar. Two friends, Agapi (meaning “love” in Greek) and Christina, worked together for years to turn an abandoned store (previously a tire shop then a taverna) into their dream. “In the end, it was the help of our friends that saved the day”, they say. “At first we were doubting our choice of setting up shop on a dark and dodgy street, but within the first month we were running around the neighbourhood borrowing clean drinking glasses to keep up with the customers,” they reminisce. Their concept of having a cosy, homey and feelgood spot drew the crowds by the hundreds, becoming the yeast for what Protogenous is today. “We hear so many stories about people meeting and falling in love over drinks in our bar; it’s so moving. We are thrilled to feel that we have paved the way for the street’s transformation.” Tranzistor serves breakfast from 10am (they got a whole lotta love for eggs, make sure to indulge) and their kitchen is open until late in the evening. Try the refreshing strawberry salad and definitely order the fried ice cream, dipped in nuts and spices.
Won't you stay for seconds?
Next up, we step into Monster Burgers & Beers. We are greeted by bearded Giorgos, standing at two-metres-tall, and his partner Katerina, an architect and overall creative soul. Customers have described Monsters’ burgers as “huge”, “delicious” and “unforgettable”. Their menu is inspired by the proto-metal music era - there’s obviously a grubs-meets-music pattern on Protogenous - and their dishes are titled after bands of the genre. Go for the golden rule and try the house special, the Monster burger, with a beef patty, chilli con carne, cheddar sauce, sweet chilli mayo, iceberg, fried egg & crispy zucchini packed in a pretzel bun. The Ram Jam comes with cheddar, bacon, tomato, spicy jam, caramelised onions, pickled red cabbage and grated Cuba cones (spicy corn puffs). The real challenge, however, is to go for the chorizo french fries and jalapeños and beer sauce combo. Vegans and vegetarians, fret not. You can rock it out with a Leaf Hound that comes on a vegan bun with a Beyond burger, plant based bacon, coleslaw, caramelised onions and pickles. As for beers, take your pick from batches from Cretan breweries to punk and metal inspired brews from the US and the UK.
Can’t leave Protogenous without dessert. Kokkion is a miraculous tiny walk-in fridge/counter where more than 30 different ice cream and sorbet flavours are made daily. Award winning pastry chef Vasilis has teamed up with his sister, Isminini, and turned their family shop into one of the best ice cream parlours in town. Kokkion gets its milk delivered twice a week from the city of Volos, and all the mixtures are fermented for 12 hours. In fact, the mascarpone cheese base, paired with figs and grape syrup, takes five days to mature. A mouth-watering variety of chocolate gustos, butter biscuit cream with stracciatella, halva (a local delicacy made with semolina and sugar), apricot/peach sorbet with rosemary and salty peanuts with caramel are just a few of the shop’s star tastes. There’s more; handcrafted popsicles, vegan choices and a full menu of freshly made desserts make this spot worthy of multiple visits - even within the same day.