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Come to the Cabaret Old Chum:
Zaza Bar-Restaurant


For Timos Livaditis, the most significant qualification required for opening Zaza, the bar-restaurant he's been running since December 24 1999 , was gutsy creativity. Raised by what he calls "conventional Greek parents," he was on course to accomplishing a brilliant career in the "respectable profession" of marketing. But even in his suit and tie he felt like a fish out of water in a stuffy and highly competitive business environment.

After finishing school in Athens ' Moraitis school, Livaditis went on to do a university degree in marketing and sociology in New York ("I threw sociology in to make my university education more enticing and bearable"), after which he returned to Greece . "I never liked academia and the sciences. Ever since I was a child I'd wanted to pursue a far more creative profession. I grew up in a neoclassical house and I could really envision opening a cabaret in there. A place where people could gather to have a drink and some good food whilst enjoying scintillating performances of all kinds. But my mother always brushed off my 'absurd' ideas, telling me to get serious."

The thing is, Livaditis was very serious indeed and, following several uninspiring and dissatisfying years in the marketing world, the person with a taste for drama, art and extravagance and a passion for productive self-fulfilment "dropped everything I'd ever really known," and chased his dream without looking back. Not once.

What is now Zaza, on Kolonaki's Deinokratous Street , used to be a restaurant owned by a friend of Livaditis. He used to frequent the locale because he was drawn to its "positive atmosphere." "There's something magnetic about this spot. Something in the air perhaps?" he says. When his friend chose to close down her business there, Livaditis, who had recently invested some money in the stock market and come out on a lucky streak, grabbed the chance to materialise his plucky, vibrant visions of a cabaret-style bar-restaurant of his own. He admits to being a night-owl with a love of the kind of life that awakens during the charged finale of the day. Throughout his youth he has investigated and developed a taste for numerous clubs, bars, restaurants and other haunts throughout Greece and other countries he has visited.

qualities required

Being a natural born prince of the night does not, however, mean that Livaditis is blessed with a supernatural ability to find second or third waves of renewed energy as the day progresses. He works out and tries to keep healthy by eating well and boozing little, but his job often proves to be highly demanding of his stamina.

"Running a bar is not as fun and easy as people often believe," he notes. "It demands enormous amounts of patience, determination to see things through and the organisation of all the details so that things flow smoothly. Every day is different from the last, and you can never take things for granted or become complacent." Apart from having to sustain such attributes, he adds that if you're going to work in this business you have to genuinely like and believe in what you're doing. "Enthusiasm, full interest and being an extrovert are essential," he says. "You have to truly enjoy the process of hosting and serving others, of getting involved in their lives and providing them with the best quality you can, even, or rather particularly, if they become good friends or regular customers."

Zaza is very much as Livaditis had envisioned it. He had dreams of somewhere cheerful and simultaneously sophisticated, rich in style as well as ambience - a tricky challenge, judging by so many locales which are unbeatable in decor but totally lacking in atmosphere. The result is the effort of his interior decorator friend, Anastasia Fotidou, who listened carefully when he proposed the concept to her, and achieved the final look. Throughout the year he has made it cosier by adding a layer of good friends and loyal customers topped by a sprinkling of items created and offered by friends (such as the hand-made lantern-style lamps hanging above the bar) and a dash of his own art. The high eye-candy value of the place thus indicates the owner's personality almost as much as it would if one were visiting one's own home.

Livaditis reveals that the bar started working three months later than originally scheduled (which is a good thing if one considers the unique day on which it finally did open its doors) because of all the technicalities he had to deal with. "The state offers absolutely no help to facilitate the process of opening a business like mine. The bureaucracy is excruciating. After you've filled a thousand forms and think it's all over, you discover - sometimes almost accidentally - that there's another million things to do!" he says, exhaling emphatically at the memory. "And then there are the workers such as painters, plumbers, electricians, who, even if you're paying them as arranged, will take their time and do things at whatever pace they please. They too seem to relish in launching unpleasant surprise-attacks on your nerves when you least expect it." He adds, however, that it all becomes worth it when he sees people come in for the first time and admire the finished result.

typical day

It appears as though Livaditis has still not overcome the stigma, which he says was created by his folks, of his current work being considered somewhat fluffy in relation to his initial professional path. He seems to need to prove that his work is indeed something that should be taken seriously. "I have never worked as hard as I do in this field," he says. "I wake up at 9.30am every day, even if I went to sleep at six that morning. The late nights haven't yet taken their toll on me," says the 32-year-old, reading my mind, "but it's probably inevitable that as the years go by I'll find it harder to function properly unless I get more rest."

Shopping at the food markets is top on this man's daily list (and then he worries that his work makes finding a wife "near impossible"?). "Maybe because it's all still relatively new to me, I love choosing the food for our restaurant myself every day," he gushes. "And you discover all kinds of interesting things as you go along." By example he relates being told when he went to buy a certain type of fish that it wasn't sold that day because there had been a full moon the previous night, and the fish are too scared of the moonlight to swim near the surface. "As a student I hardly cooked and ate mostly junk-food," he confesses, "but I've always enjoyed trying new foods around the world and I like to introduce new flavours." Mornings are also taken up by unavoidable bureaucratic chores - insurance, taxes, etc.

He has his siesta for a couple of hours to recharge for the evening ahead, then pops into Zaza and helps prepare, returns home and then sets off into the core of the night for the next nine hours of work. "My time at home is precious to me," he says. "It gives me a chance to do the things I love, like paint, make T-shirts or practise playing the bongos, which I'm taking a course on right now. I like to listen to all kinds of music, depending on my mood, from arias to jazz-funk, and relish my own silence."

Being on the job is often extremely demanding on Livaditis' spirit. "By nature I'm anxious and somewhat of an introvert," he says. "I'm not the most self-confident and chilled-out person I know. I've changed a lot in that respect over the past year, but sometimes it's still daunting having to chat endlessly and facetiously with practical strangers, or to walk around with a smile plastered on my face." As we talk he quite awkwardly exclaims several times, "Sorry. I know I'm talking too much." I tell him that's the whole point of an interview. I can't figure out, however, whether he really is as shy and insecure as he makes himself out to be. After all, if he were, could he last so long?

"My girlfriend, who works in the same field, is by now used to how I am when I get home. Basically, after the bar closes, I'm so wired up I need to go somewhere else for a while just to wind down." Livaditis stresses the importance of balance in this kind of work. "And when I finally go home I simply don't say a word to her for half an hour."

future plans

Livaditis isn't yet fully satisfied. The cabaret vision has been materialised but not fulfilled. He wants more. "I'm constantly thinking of new ways in which to make this place more like a cabaret," he muses. "The main obstacle is that if you're going to have live acts, you're going to make noise, and this neighbourhood isn't particularly thrilled by that idea." As he talks of bongo-playing, jazz singing, theatre and belly dancers his eyes light up. So do mine. "Wouldn't it be great if, just out of the blue, a belly dancer were to appear whilst people are eating and glitteringly snake around the place?"

Yes it would. And let's just hope he does it. A good sound-proof system could be a bit of a struggle to set up, but when the fruitful ideas and infectious enthusiasm are there, what is there to worry about?

Zaza is located on 65 Deinokratous St, Kolonaki, tel 210 722-6430

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