Leafy, quiet, cheerful, relaxed, homey and stylish, Mets is full of surprises, just minutes away on foot from the very centre of Athens. Photographer Thomas Gravanis talks to Maria Kostaki about the quaintest of all neighbourhoods that he loves to call home.
By Maria Kostaki
Snuggled between Ardittos and Logginou hills, Mets is a small, residential haven dotted with the homes of low-key artists, musicians, actors, journalists, architects, and residents that have been there for generations. Initially home to the country’s first ever major brewery, Fix Brewery, it expands from Ilioupoleos/Karea Street, envelopes the First Cemetery of Athens and stretches up to Markou Mousourou Street - or Dikearchou Street, depending on who you ask.
Thomas, a photographer who’s seen every corner of the city through his lens, has lived in Mets for 10 years, having planted his roots there by chance, couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“Here, everything central is nearby; the National Garden, Zappeion, Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium. It’s very close to the action of the city, yet, it’s quiet. That’s what I like most about it. There are no buses, no tall buildings, it’s green and there are hills and parks. You can see things.” “Things?” “Let’s go for a walk,” he says, jumping off his couch.
Athens' best basketball court, according to Thomas' friend.
Photo: Thomas Gravanis
Over the Hills & not Far Away
As we walk down the middle of narrow streets, barely any cars go by, residents can be seen hanging out on their balconies, one puts down a book, smiles, waves and says hello.
“There’s a real neighbourhood feel here, old-Athens style. Everyone knows the manavi (fruit and vegetable seller), the pharmacist, and so on. Everyone in my building and the ones across the street and the ones next to it, own the homes they live in; they’ve been here for decades,” Thomas explains. We’re heading up a pedestrian path, up a hill called Logginou, and to a brand-new park and playground surrounded by bursts of fuchsia bougainvillaea and lush bushes.
“A friend of mine claims that this is the best outdoor basketball court in the city,” he says, pointing at a court of geometric colours near the park.
We walk back down the hill and to Anapafseos Street. The first two blocks off the cemetery are home to marble workshops, mostly for gravestones, busts and statues, some incredibly ornate, others lifelike. Tall trees lean over the street, as if to shelter it from the heat and nearby bustle.
“There aren’t many bars and restaurants in the area,” he tells me, “but my go-to place for food is Olympion. It’s been nurturing Mets for years. People must try the makaronia me kima (spaghetti bolognese), the beef sofrito, the lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat), the lasagne, the gemista (stuffed vegetables), or anything from the grill. I could go on…”
Next to Olympion is Colibri, one of the first spots to serve pizza and burgers in the neighbourhood. And a little further La Nonna, a laid-back pizzeria that attracts customers from all over the city.
At the top of Anapafseos turn right and you’ll find Athens’ storied jazz club, Half Note, where international legends and local artists have been performing since 1979. Kain, a café-bar half-way down the road, is one of the area’s most popular local nightlife hotspots, where you’re bound to find people dancing late into the night.
We cut through the side streets, towards the back of the Kallimarmaro stadium, first making a stop at Thomas’ favourite secret spot of Mets.
“It’s nothing special,” he smirks, seeing my confusion as we stand at an ordinary crossroads of two streets with apartment buildings. “Come here and look that way.” The Parthenon stands almost at the same height as us, its view obstructed only by a few flowers that a resident has planted outside their home. “Now, stand still and turn your head the other way.” Athens’ second most recognisable skyline landmark, Lycabettus Hill, is in clear view.
We walk up the beautiful pedestrian Theotoki Street, its houses so well-kept you would think the paint on their walls had just dried. Secret gardens appear as I carefully sneak peek through the fences and windows. Whether neoclassical or modern or of little architectural orientation, each residence has something to make you stop and stare. There are more streets like this, like Fotiadou, where you go up flights of stairs to find yourself in another version of the same enchanting scenery.
We’re on Markou Mousourou Street when Gravanis pulls me towards a small shop called ΨΚΜ, an anagram of “ΚΨΜ” which in Greek Army lingo means Unit Recreational Centre. “This is by far the neighbourhood's quirkiest spot,” he points out. Within its small space, this modern psilikatzidiko (convenience store and not a university sorority) sells everything from cigarettes and snacks to global design magazines, locally handcrafted dolls and toys, vinyl records, soaps, guitar strings, cookies and board games. It might sound random, but strangely it is not.
“And now, I’ll take you to the place where Mets drinks.” Odeon is the neighbourhood’s unpretentious all-day watering hole. It’s early afternoon and the place is sparsely dotted with coffee drinkers, some working on their laptops, others reading a book. Thomas greets almost everyone. “I come here alone at any time of the day and always find someone I know,” he explains. He introduces me to the bartender, Michalis, who makes a mean Mai Tai - to praise him, Thomas calls it “Michael Tai”. Marble tables and wooden chairs stand on the old-school mosaic floor and ceiling fans add to the haunt’s uncomplicated ambience. I imagine the night-time buzz of conversations with friends and music.
“You can come here on a Monday night and it’ll still be great,” Gravanis tells me. “Odeon never disappoints.”
“I forgot to tell you,'' he yells from down the street after we’ve parted ways, “there’s a great brunch place on Anapafseos called Joshua Tree, in case you’re ever in the neighbourhood on a Saturday or Sunday!”