Plaka is fun for your parents but if you are of partying age Psiri along with Gazi are the places to
be. Psiri does not have the carefree
Never On Sunday feel that the Plaka
has. It is sort of a dark place that
echos its underworld past. But if you
want good food and nightlife there is
no area as authentically Greek as
Psiri, or as international.
History of Psiri
Psiri has always had a reputation of being
anti-establishment. From the very
beginning of the modern Greek State
people from the provinces and
especially from the island of Naxos,
came to the area of Psiri. Many got
jobs and became respectable citizens
but some stayed and made up the
underworld of Athens. They were known
as mangas. Hash-smokers, petty
criminals and people discontent with
society their ranks were constantly
replenished by new immigrants. One
known for their long mustaches, long
sharp toed boots with high heels,
tight pants, a broad sash which hid
their weapons and their jackets worn
with one arm out of the sleeve. They
terrorized Athens using Psiri as their
base for over 50 years. They literally
governed the neighborhood and even the
police were afraid to set foot in
Sort of like the way Exarchia is now.
In 1893 Prime
Minister Harilaos Trikoupis founded a
new combination army-police to stamp
out the Koutsavakides under the control of
the tough Inspector Dimitrios
Baoraktaris. His method was simple. He
humiliated the Koutsavakides by
arresting them and cutting off the
toes of their pointed boots as
well as the unused sleeve of their
coats, shaved their mustaches and force
them to break their guns, before
sending them home embarrassed. It
worked and the Koutsavakides faded
away and Psiri became safe for
Baoraktaris did not stop there. He
also ended the romantic custom of
suitors serenading from the streets to
their beloved in the windows and
balcony above, by sending his police
to break the guitars over their heads
before arresting them and throwing them
in jail for the evening.
was also known as the haven for the
revolutionaries during the war of
Independence as well as for a very odd
sport that kept the lower classes
entertained in the days before
football. They would have 'stone wars'
or what we as kids called 'rock
fights'. At a prearranged time men
from Psiri would meet the men from
Thission, Metaxourgio or Petralona and
insult each other until the rocks
began flying. There were
cheering spectators and those
injured became neighborhood heroes.
This went on until the end of the 19th
Psiri was also the home of the 'Maid
of Athens' of Lord Byron fame who has
been immortalized in his poem:
maid of Athens, ere I part
Give oh give me back my heart"
subject of this poem who became
something of a star was Theresa
Makris, one of three sisters who lived
next door to the boarding house where
Byron stayed when he visited Athens in
1809. Though Byron never had a
relationship with her (she was only
twelve and he preferred the company of
young boys) the mere mention of her in
the poem inspired a sort of cult and
nineteenth century tourists would
visit the house and hope to witness
the beauty that had inspired the
great romantic poet. The house where
Byron stayed was on the corner of
Agios Theklas and Papanikolis
Its just up the street where Stavros Melissinos the famous poet-sandal-maker of Athens has his shop.
the 20th century Psiri was an area of tavernas and a
place where you would find the rembetica
musicians who sang their songs of love, exile, pain,
poverty, heroin and hashish, the same songs you will
hear in Psiri today.
is my home when I am in Athens.
A Visit to
Several years ago a wealthy
landlord (who happened to be a
government minister) was able to
pass a law that made Psiri, a
working class neighborhood that
was full of leather workshops and
small factories, into an area
designated for nightlife. This of
course would make real estate more
valuable. The leather workers
who had been there for generations
were not too pleased, but the
result was a neighborhood that was
suddenly alive, not just during
the day but all night too. Whether this
is something positive or something that will
one day lead to more misery (alcoholism, obesity,
decadence and high rents) we will have to see but
for now one thing is certain: Psiri is a fun place
to visit and I would not mind living here either.
In fact when I am in Athens I sort of do live here.
Psiri in the daytime is deceiving.
The streets are filled with
working class people and the
former leather craftsman district
still contains a variety of shops and
businesses that might be described
as practical or business oriented,
from type-setters, to fixtures,
and material goods for making
clothing. The only clues that the
area is a hotbed of nightlife are
the cafes and restaurants
storefronts that look like they
have been closed for
years and the new shops and boutiques.
If you were wandering through the neighborhood you
might stop and wonder what a state-of-the-art climate-controlled
shop selling Cuban Cigars is doing in an area of
workshops and small factories?
If you did not look close
enough to see the signs that advertise
them as restaurants you
might think they are abandoned
or not even notice them. In fact with
the exception of some cafes with a
few tables outside,
the only food you will find in Psiri
in the daytime during the week is at the working class Taverna Psiri, a souvlaki from the shop next door or at Platia
Iroon, a spanakopita in the pastry shop
next door, a koulorakia (like a doughnut
but not sweet) from the factory
that supplies most of the downtown
vendors, or a candy bar at the kiosk in
Iroon square. But things are changing and by the time you read this there may be a dozen more places for lunch or to while away the afternoon with food, ouzo and wine.
Starting at around 6pm Psiri
undergoes the transformation from
a mecca of cafes, bars,
restaurants and ouzeries in a
setting that reminds me of a
scaled down version of New York's
Soho district with the East Village
tossed in. The streets are
filled with tables and chairs and
what were parking lots during the
day become dramatically lighted
outdoor dining areas for restaurants that
look they have been built into a
bombed out city. Each restaurant
has its own style, from
traditional Greek taverna or
ouzerie-mezedopouleon to 60's
style cafes that may remind you of
a luncheonette in an old movie.
Many are decorated with historic
photos of Athens and some with
relics of our modern
on Maoulis Street right at Iroon Square is a
small sophisticated cafe-ouzeri, playing jazz and
swing rather than the old
Rembetika songs played in
some of the other places in Psiri, and the snacks they serve
are delicious. Many places have a
look that seems to say "If you
are a tourist-get lost", but
you will find the service very
friendly and if they did not want
you there they would not have
printed the menus in
English or have waiters who speak English in the places that don't have menus.
Right across the street, on the square is Beer-time, one of the few places in Athens where you can get Greek microbrew beers as well as beers from all over the world served in a variety of styles including mini-kegs that sit on your table.
into Psiri on tiny Ivi Street is the Mezedopoulion
Ivi or what we call The Elvis Costello
Place or simply because the owner, Stratos, bears an amazing resemblance to Elvis Costelo.
It is very small and there are very few chairs and
for that reason I am not going to give directions
so that only the more adventurous will find it.
It is right next door to an amazing home-made candle
shop. Ivi is one of the only places in Athens that I have found that carries Baba Tzim ouzo from Serres, one of my favorites as well as dozens of other ouzos from Lesvos and tsipuro from all over Greece. This is where I am most nights in Athens, starting off with an ouzo or two, some fried shrimp, or grilled soupia (cuttlefish), hummus, sausages, the marinated fish plate which features rega, skoumbri, sardeles and other fishy things that go great with ouzo or raki. We hang out for hours and maybe
order a few more dishes before Andrea goes back to the hotel to read and my friends and I continue throughout the night.
It is mostly young intellectuals and a few knowledgeable X-pats, and a great place to make friends.
My favorite winter place is Taverna Psiri on Aisxylou Street. They also have a garden in the back for the summer. Right next door is a Psistaria (Grill House) called Odos Aisxylou at #14-16 and they have lots of grilled meats and some nice salads too but last time I went there
the waiter was such a jerk I swore I would never go back. Both are less than a block from Iroon Square. If you walk from the square up Agion Anargyron street
to the next square there are two or three more ouzeries. Nikitas opposite the church is as reliable, friendly and cheap as ever. One of the last such in Psyrri. Nikitas calls itself a psitopolío but they’re really a proper
oinomayerio, always with several dishes of the day. Their biftekia aren’t bad
either. They usual have a good eggplant dish on offer. The outdoor
tables are much in demand in fine weather. The worst thing about them is
that they close at about 7.30pm.
Krasopoulio tou Kokora is one of the oldest restaurants in Psiri, one of the first five or six that opened in the nineties and the restaurant space itself used to be an historic music taverna, dating back to the mid nineteenth century. It is a small cozy restaurant with outdoor seating and the inside
looks like a museum, full of antiques and old advertisements. The food is excellent and inexpensive. For meat eaters try the meat pikilea which for 17 euros will easily feed two people, three if you order an appetiser or one of their giant salads. To find it just walk from Iroon Square down Giorgiou Kariaskaki Street and take your second right. A few steps further and you will come to Gostigo which is the only kosher restaurant in Athens. Keep walking and you will come to a small ice-cream shop, the
former Gelatomania, now in a more subdued location but still selling their amazing Italian ice-cream.
If you continue on to Takis Street and make a left you will come to a small hole-in-the-wall ouzeri with very good food, called Mavros Gatos which means Black Cat. Great place for ouzo or tsipuro and meze with friendly waiter/owners and an underworld atmosphere you will brag to your friends about. Try their regasalata
(herring salad) and other small plates from their menu. By the way I did not get that black cat to pose in front of the restaurant, nor is it a plastic cat or photo-shopped. When I took the photo a black cat just happened to be sitting in front of the restaurant called the Black Cat, one of those strange occurrences that makes one believe in intelligent design or the Matrix.
Be aware that when you enter
Psiri, your first instinct will be
to think "This can't be the
place". The area seems dangerous
and dark, with loads of graffiti, some of it quite ominious. But it is not dangerous and graffiti can't jump off the walls and bite you so be brave and continue on. As you follow the small streets
towards the center it gets
livelier and more well lit until
suddenly you realize you are here.
The easiest way to enter Psiri is
from one of the small roads
between the Attalos Hotel and
Monastiraki Square on Athinas
street. Walk in and make a right
on Miaouli and you will pass
several cool cafes on the way
to Iroon square. If you are
coming down Ermou pass Monastiraki
Square and turn right on Themidos
(turns into Miaoulis) or
Kariaskaki and both will lead you
to Iroon Square.The best time to be here is during Apokreas, Greece's Carnival Season when the streets are packed with people in costume and the night goes on forever unless you don't like crowds in which case the best time is almost anytime.
There are numerous cafes and
restaurants open on Saturday and
Sunday, and very few cars to bother
you though you should keep plenty of
change on hand because the street
musicians and the girls selling
flowers come in a never-ending flow
and the more you drink the harder it
is to say no. There are also plans for
the opening of many new galleries and
theaters in this district and the
bordering former gasworks area known as Gazi, many
of which have already opened their
doors. This area is for the explorer.
Those who have tired of endless
T-shirt shops and Mousaka signs and
being danced to by men in evzone
costumes while you drink domestika and
look at a room full of people as
foreign as you, this is the place to
go. This area is for people who want
to see what it is like to be young and
hip and hang out in
Athens. Or even not so young and
One of my favorite places in Psiri is a small bar called The Party, named for the great Peter Seller's comedy, at 31 Kariaskakis Street, which has live rock and pop music just about every night of the week and on Wednesday nights there is a live jazz jam that goes on well into the morning hours. Very easy to find, just half a block
from Iroon Square, this is one of the first bars in Psiri and attracts a mixed crowd of young and middle aged Greeks and a handful of foreigners. During the jazz jam the bar is filled with musicians and there may be as many as 5 or 6 horn players on the stage at once. Traveling jazz musicians sometimes do workshops in the early evening which gradually lead into the open jazz jam. In the daytime they have coffee, beer, wine and snacks and play Frank Sinatra, New Orleans Jazz and other tasteful things.
are techno-clubs, bars, live
music clubs, sixties music
bars... and I think you are getting
the idea that Psiri is not just a
place where people go and drink
ouzo and listen to old Rembetika
songs all night. Psiri is an all-ages
party and it is not uncommon for
there to be a traffic jam on
Athinas street at 5am on a big
Another nice spot is Therion, just off Takis street if you are about my age and are turned off by the music you hear in most clubs these days. Its for a more mature crowd though youngsters with good taste hang out there as well. Be warned that like most bars and clubs it is smokey and you may want to put your clothes on the balcony of your hotel when you get home or your whole room will smell of cigarettes when you wake up. 7-Times
Club at 13 Maiouli Street right by the Monastiraki Metro Station in Psiri plays international music, a mix of live and DJ. Their house band plays everything from Elvis to Depeche Mode and you can hear anything from rock and roll, to swing, different varieties of jazz, pop, funk, bozza-nova, sixties and even Irish music on St Patrick's day.
Shopping in Psiri
Those who are horrified by the commerciality of the Monastiraki Flea Market will find the small shops of Psiri a breath of fresh air. The lower rents have become an invitation to merchants selling unique products not found in the nearby tourist areas of Athens. Starting the week before Easter Sunday
Psiri plays host to the Naxos, Lamb
and Cheese market. The streets are
filled with Naxiotes who have come to
Athens to sell the Easter lambs
everyone roasts and the delicious Naxos
cheese which the island is famous for
as well as home made wine, all from
the villages in the interior of the
island. Read all about
Naxos Lamb and Cheese
Market and see
also the famous Naxos shop:Geniko
Emborio Eklekton Proionton
Naxos where you can buy fruits and vegetables as well as cheese from Naxos that comes in big wheels able to withstand the rigors of transcontinental travel and can last up to a year in the fridge, a perfect gift for yourself or that special someone. It may be the best cheese you have ever eaten.
If you happen to be in Psiri in the daytime go by the Antique store of Apostolis Sofialides at #15 Pittaki right off Kariaskakis. He has a nice collection of antiques including easy to carry home gifts like old photos and advertisments. Check out that
candle shop too if you can find it, next to the Elvis Costello place. Also Stavros Melissinos, the famous Poet-Sandalmaker has
moved to Psiri at #2 Ag Theklas Street and instantly livened up the street. His son Pandelis (photo) is now running the shop and may be the most over-qualified sandal-maker in the world with a degree from Parsons School of Design. He is also a poet, painter, playwright and costume designer and his shop has played host to everyone from the Beatles to Sophia Loren, Jackie Onassis, Brigitte Baku, and Lily Tomlin. The shop is usually full of people being personally fitted for sandals, sharing travel
stories and being entertained by Melissinos and his crew. Melissinos himself is a fountain of information about Greek politics and history and a visit here may be one of the most educational experiences you have during your visit to Greece. When journalists ask me who they can talk to about the situation in Greece I send them to Pandelis Melissinos. In Greece if you want to understand politics, ask a poet. At Ag Theklas #13 is the Zazanis Icon Shop where you can get original hand painted icons instead
the fake printed ones sold in many of the tourist shops.
Also look for the Komboloi Museum, a colorful store on Ag Anargiron street just a block west of Iroon Square where you can buy real worry beads like the old Greek men use and not the plastic ones that they make for the tourists. Plus check out the El Habenero Cuban Cigar Shop right in the square.
If you are American keep in mind that it is illegal
to bring Cuban cigars into the states and if you try and are caught they will be confiscated and smoked by the Department of Homeland Security. Further down Ag Anargiron street on tiny Nika Street is a shop where bouzoukia, baglamas, aouds and other stringed instruments are handmade. It backs up into an amazing soap shop at 31 Ag Anargiron, with a name you will never remember: Sabatar Hermanos/Jabones Natureales, with some of the best smelling natural soaps and beauty products in a very colorful setting. I bought
the cannabis soap and have been taking several showers a day ever since. We also bought lavender, and a few others, all of which smell amazing.
There are some cool shops and hip galleries and a bar or two on Protogenous Street which is the road that leads into Psiri from Athinas street.
More Practical Information
those who find Plaka too touristy at
night Psiri is an alternative, especially for young people.
Athinas street is clean, very
professionally run and very
inexpensive and by staying here you
have access to Psiri as well as nearby
Monastiraki, the Plaka and all the
archaeological sites. Also nearby is the boutique hotel A for Athens, and for backbackers the Athens Style Hotel-Pension.
For more on Psiri see my
Be sure to visit the new Museum of Gastronomy at 13 Agio Dimitriou right by the big unfinshed church down the street from Taverna Psiri.
See also Nightlife
and Club listings
Amvrazi's Nightlife Guide to Psiri, Restaurants, The Poet-Sandalmaker of Psiri, Rembetika Music, Athens
, Gazi, Athinas Street
Visit my 2013 Psiri Photo Album