Athenians’ favorite old-time meeting place reopens

Zonar’s, a much-loved Athens meeting place, reopened suddenly on November 21, «We opened at 9.15 a.m. and by 9.40 the place was full,» Zonar’s manager Giorgos Destounis told Helbi. «We deliberately made the opening a surprise, to see the reaction of the public. And everyone who has come in since then has said the same thing, how it used to be their meeting place, how pleased they were it had reopened and that once again they had somewhere to go for coffee, a drink and a chat.» Helbi had put up a fight against the closure of Zonar’s, and its announced reopening by City Link as a luxury suit-and-tie outlet. Especially since the Floca cafe next door had closed, the aim was to save the cafe whose habitues once included Queen Sofia of Spain, composer Manos Hadjidakis and poet Nikos Gatsos. And there was a desire to retain the building in its original form, with period decor – the art deco lamps, the metal fans on the pillars, the mirrors, the wooden floor and the little balcony upstairs where an orchestra used to play chamber music. The interior space has been opened up – there are no more pillars or partitions. There are still tables up against the windows. With a staff of 100 in uniforms, Zonar’s will stay open till midnight every day including Sundays and holidays. The lights are on again in the most popular corner of Athens, Panepistimiou and Voukourestiou streets, and they will stay on after the cafe closes. Already a line of tables and chairs has appeared on Panepistimiou while planter pots full of cyclamens line the Voukourestiou side. Well done. Customers physical education teacher Litsa and psychiatrist Athina Saltaferi had been at the Pallas: «We came to have a light meal, like we used to.» Eleni, a clerk in a private firm, and Vasso, who works for an optician, were eating at Zonar’s when we visited. They’ll be back, they said, «as long as the prices are right.» And we’ll be back too if Zonar’s can do something to stop the voices drowning out the music and extend the area allotted to non-smokers, now seated up front, near the refrigerators. The older generation will forget the tranquil afternoons when we could sit in the cafe and read or write. Times have changed and young and old will change with them, happy to be at Zonar’s again, and happy that the center of town has not gone dark. In contrast, there’s Cellier opposite Zonar’s in the arcade, the Ideal a bit further down, and tables and chairs outside the Stoa Spyromiliou summer and winter. The Pallas across the road is doing big business with its luxury stores. Luckily there was space in all the revamping for Zonar’s, whose customers have responded en masse.