Reopening of cinemas, theater gives Patission some of its neon glow back

The recent reopening of the legendary Athens Studio cinema (33 Stavropoulou) was marked with a special screening of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” a fitting debut for the Christmas season.

The relaunch is part of a gradual but discernible trend in the broader Patission Street area to revive a part of the city that was once a cosmopolitan, upscale theater district before urban decay set in, turning the area into one of the most degraded in the Greek capital.

In mid-October, for example, the Vembo Theater reopened its doors, its entrance bathed in neon lights after six years of darkness. A few days later, the Alkyonis venue, on Eikostis Ektis Oktovriou Street, which served briefly as a theater, reopened as a cinema after 23 years.

In their heyday in the late 1960s and up until the late 1980s or early 90s, the Alkyonis and Studio were responsible for the cultural and political education of an entire generation of Greeks. Filmmaker Sokratis Kapsaskis opened Studio in 1972 during the 1967-74 dictatorship and a few months later the curtain rose at the Alkyonis for the first time, with both cinemas showing thought-provoking and taboo works that defied conventions and strict censorship rules, attracting audiences who were looking for something different than what approved or mainstream cinemas had to offer.

Studio was also particularly popular among students, offering big discounts on ticket prices and also because it has a bookshop in the basement. It had no balcony and the projector was placed at the back of the main hall, features that have been preserved during its latest renovation. While Studio has kept its original look, it has new screening equipment, plusher seats and more amenities.

“They have been modernized but their original aesthetics have been retained and they will continue to be warm and welcoming downtown venues,” said Velissarios Kosyvakis, artistic director of the New Star distribution agency, operator of the two cinemas.

The concept of revival rather than renewal has also permeated the renovation of the Vembo Theater, which retains its marble and mosaic features, as well as the dressing rooms that once accommodated some of Greece’s finest and most popular thespians. Now, the Vembo’s artistic direction has been put in the hands of comedy duo Thanasis Papathanasiou and Michalis Reppas, who launched the venue with “Prin to Harama” (Before Dawn), a love story set in the post-World War II era.

With all these new developments, Patission’s comeback appears to be just a matter of time.