24 hours in downtown Athens with René and Antoine
Initially introduced to the Greek audience through their performance film “I WANT” for Zeus+Δione, it’s now the time to re-introduce themselves as Athens locals and provide us with some amazing recommendations and tips.
Antoine Asseraf & René Habermacher
“We are really downtown people. We used to live in a loft on Evripidou street in Psirri, in the midst of the Spice Bazaar. Now in Exarcheia, and soon in Kypseli where we are currently renovating an apartment. We can’t wait to wake up and enjoy the view across the cityscape to Aegina and Peloponnese, showing on a clear day. Kypseli is very appealing to us for its cosmopolitan atmosphere: sublime mid-20th century Greek architecture on Fokionos Negri now lined with Arab Shisha places, Ethiopian eat-ins, traditional Tavernas and African beauty parlours.
IN THE MORNING
We usually kick-start our morning with a run around the park of Pedion Areos, and then grab a simit (the famous ‘koulouri’ in greek) and an espresso freddo on the go. But if need to be more substantial we enjoy a blue mushy open toast for brunch at Anana Cofee|Food on Praxitelous 33. The stunning encircling courtyard really represents the Athens we love: a steel fan whirls fresh air across withered marble and mosaic floors and the grid-locked elevator leads to the upper floors of a stunning 1940s building with offices and workshops. A good example of the old and new Athens symbiotic life.
After running some errands downtown, we may grab lunch with a friend at Nikitas Oinomageirio under the mulberry trees of Agion Anargiron street, number 19. Not far from the Headquarters of Zeus+Dione, Nikitas is an institution and one of the few leftovers that once made the authentic Psirri. And still, it is trying to resist the decay and gentrification process. How is it possible that one of the most historical areas of Athens is in such a state? Here, where the big bulk of artisans ran their workshops and the Athenian version of proto-rebetika was born after the revolution fighters ran idle and handed their spirits to the sound of the underground. Those guys and gals now go to listen to their song elsewhere.
IN THE AFTERNOON
In the afternoon we may go for a stroll to check out the stalks of the antique dealers in Monasteraki, and past Thission over the flagstone paved street to the single-nave basilica of Aghios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris.
Together with the -now derelict- Pavillion of the adjunct cafe, this ensemble is probably one of the most beautiful ensembles of the post-war Greek modernist architecture by Dimitris Pikionis. During a time of the mass demolition of neoclassical houses, Pikionis recycled materials for this project, and incorporated the pieces to reshape the area around Filopapou and Acropolis to become one of the best examples of topocentric modernism. His work blends archaic findings with classicist elements, Byzantine structure and a Japanese approach to an animistic ensemble of true serene beauty.
For a dose of contrast, we may go on and check out, what the contemporary art scene is cooking up: Space52 - an artist space at Larnakos 28 in Patissia, or Snehta artist residence and gallery at Ioannou Drossopoúlou 47 in Kypseli.
IN THE EVENING
On the way back downtown of course, a classic water hole may come in handy for a rest: Au Revoir bar at 28is Oktovriou! The original interior by Aristomenis Provelegios has barely changed since its opening operation in 1958. Mister Lisandros serves drinks for 55 years, among them the best gin fizz cocktail in town: a small narrow glass, fizzy with a home pickled ‘kerasi’ (cherry) on top. What’s better than watching the fleeting lights of the Avenue for nightfall as time goes by? René once had a drinking competition here and won it by 17 gin fizz! But that’s another story!
Dinner time often leads to ParkBench restaurant on Pramanton 10 in Koukaki - or is it already Petralona? No taxi driver can agree to what area this peripheral tree shaded square really belongs. The fact is that the low key restaurant by chef Dimitrios Soutsos and his partner Aspa Selepe offers one of the most consistent menus on the contemporary Greek food scene in Athens. Just try the Shrimps on carob rusks, with Tarama, orange and beetroot pickle: sublime!
Afterwards we may check out what’s up at the skate cafe Latraac on Leonidou 63-65, if there is a party up at Romantzo, in the former printing house of kitsch novels, or we go and simply listen to sentimental songs of the underground scene - at Steki Pinoklis on Meg. Alexandrou 102 in Metaxourcheio. Here is where the real rebetes gather according to Panagiotis Varlas, one of the best luthiers in Greece. And if you need a bouzouki, that’s where you and all the great Greek “bouzouksides” go: Organopoieio Pan. Varlas on Koletti 7 Exarcheia.”
René + Antoine