Is your idea of a bad night out drinking overpriced cocktails in a soulless tourist trap? We’ve got the inside track on the coolest Athenian haunts to pull up a stool at.
By Alex Kavdas
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In Greek, we call them “stekia”—and every Athenian has at least one. Those intimate hangouts we head to day or night that we become, almost instantly, emotionally attached to. They might change every few years—or even every season—but once they click with us, these watering holes become our home away from home. Comfy food, exciting drinks and cool urban vibes are the core ingredients; equally dished up, creating a fresh aesthetic and unrepeatable mood that raises each of these spots up on a pedestal. Fear not though, these are not exclusive or sniffy venues; nor hard to get into. Au contraire, these quintessentially Athenian hotspots are the ones you want to be hanging out at, if you are into meeting friendly locals, away from ho-hum tourist baiting traps. Athenians love to mingle and connect with visitors, so we are confident that you will (reluctantly) leave any of our following favourites with a few new friends. And definitely some new stories.
It's a Village
Here’s an experiment. Mention the name (It’s a) Village and watch nearly every Athenian break into a smile. That’s because everyone knows and loves this small bar with a big heart. When “Village” first opened in Saint George’s Square in Kypseli back in 2016, it was a mellow jazz bar; keeping company with the big neighbourhood church and cluster of family restaurants. With time though, its heartwarming cosiness lured Athenians from all across town; and its popularity has single-handedly revived this retro urban square (and dare we say, the whole area). Now, Village literally is a village; with cool crowds vibing on sidewalk tables from early morning power brunches to flirty late night drinks. The cocktail list is dedicated to the streets around the square, which in fact are all named after Greek islands, but the latest best-seller is simply “Plateia” (meaning square), with aged rum and raspberries. Pair it with their hero dish: the “Village Club Sandwich” which is like a hug on a plate.
As authentically Athenian as they come, this happening micro-bar has taken seed inside a quirky arcade in Psirri, alongside old-school coffee shops and vintage boutiques. Even though it’s just off Iroon Square, Grow Bar remains outside most tourists’ radar. The easiest way to find it is to follow the locals who make a beeline for its neon sign from Thursdays to Saturdays (from 18:00 till the small hours) to hear the city’s coolest DJs drop their sounds. The founders have also managed to transport a refined drinking experience to Athenian street culture; serving high quality concoctions on a budget. Order a “Disco Devil” (nodding to Lee “Scratch” Perry’s anthem), their signature secret cocktail; or a “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Cherries” with rum, Mezcal, lime, almonds and cherries. Classic cocktail lovers should pick the “Mediterranean High”, a rum base with cucumber, lemon and pepper. If it’s undiluted Athens vibes you’re after, look no further than Grow.
Right behind the Onassis Stegi culture hub, you will find this cosmopolitan all-day haunt that kickstarted the transformation of up and coming Neos Kosmos into a buoyant Athenian neighbourhood. Unpretentious Naif aims to please—rather than impress the Insta crowd—so founder and owner Petros has created a menu of universal comfort cuisine such as yummy pizzas (we recommend the white one with 3 cheeses and truffle oil), crispy chicken nuggets and fresh seasonal dishes like stuffed vegetables. Scroll through the wine list to sample the results of sustainable winemaking by indie vineyards; a list that gets revamped every three months. As for their signature cocktails, we rate the classics: the Campari Spritz and Negroni. Snare one of the corner tables for an inspiring view of “ALL WE HAVE IS WORDS, ALL WE HAVE IS WORLDS”—the iconic neon artwork emblazoned across Stegi. And worry not about your appearance here. Petros says you are welcome, “even in your PJs”.
Ten years ago, when this original generation street bar opened, most Athenians were indifferent (even oblivious) to both it; and the downtown pedestrian alley it was located in. Since then, Blue Bird—and Ipitou street overall—has blossomed from a local secret into an unmissable meet-up point for early to late night drinks. Open daily, the indoor bar is your best bet on weekdays for a softer, jazzier feel. But on Fridays and Saturdays, the pavement is where it’s all at if you want to soak up a great street party atmosphere. Skevi, the founder (and one of the most easy going people you’ll encounter), has a thing for whiskey, so ask her what she’s drinking—or take your pick from her selection of over 20 brands. The Bloody Marys are famously good but so are the more creative concoctions (try a “Playa”, made with tequila, fresh homemade pineapple jam, chilly and smoked salt). Whatever you choose, you’ll always feel at home. As Skevi says, “This is a bar for all exotique birds.”
You’ve heard about the Athens vibe? Here’s the place to try it on for size for yourself, away from the tourist trail. On Michalakopoulou Street, known for its after-hours street food, you will find Brazil Square (an appropriate name for this buzzy urban hangout). Follow the music behind the green park and locate the neon pink-lit trees. Lot 51 is what you’d call a destination bar. It originally opened as a specialty coffee place (cold brew is their super power), but has now morphed into a hip nocturnal hotspot where a “Surf’s Up” mood is always in the air and exotic cocktails flow freely. Latest concoctions include: a “Litviak Aviation”with London dry gin, honey syrup flavoured with chamomile, violets, and Marlet liqueur made from French melons—and a “Calvadier” with Calvados VSOP, Campari and rose water. If you want to hang with the cool kids, skip the design-conscious interior and outside tables and head straight for the steps at the side—that’s the meeting point.
It’s easy for first-time visitors to sometimes lose their bearings in the graffiti-splashed alleys of Psirri, but once you see the crowd from a distance, you’ll know you’re on the right track! An all-day restaurant, with a knack for brunches, Juan Rodriguez turns into the life and soul of the party once the sun goes down. The pedestrian way in front becomes packed with the most diverse crowd. Fitting since the myth says Juan Rodriguez was a Panamese wanderer who decided to stop in Athens and share his experiences. A different DJ sets the mood each night and their cocktails are a must. Inspired by musical or literary geniuses, try the Bukowski 94, with Campari, coconut puree and fresh pineapple, or the Joplin 70, with Vodka, Blue Curacao and apple juice. If you insist on being seated, be sure to reserve a table.
It’s a universal urban fact that railway bridges lure cool bars and cool bars lure cool punters. And it’s a Petralona fact that strolls in this authentic Athenian neighbourhood inevitably wind up at Rudu. This groovy café-bar sits right under the electric railway bridge in that sweet spot where Petralona merges with Keramikos. Rudu jumps day and night. Especially night, thanks to the handpicked soundtrack by leftfield-heads from all over Athens (the owners regularly book funk, disco and indie DJ sets so you never know what you’ll get, which helps keep things fresh). Grab a table outside and settle in with a laid-back local crowd for some bites or coffee. Their cocktails are top notch, too. Rudu favours spirits paired with fresh fruits and handmade syrups, and tags them after songs, films and pop culture references. Go for the gin-based staple “Siamese Dream” (no smashed pumpkin in it we’re afraid, but the pink peppercorn and rosemary balance will have you hooked), or channel your inner Brando with a spicy Viva Zapata while you Instagram Rudu’s signature neon sign inspired by The Smiths.