Athens still parties at night, despite expense

Athens leads another life at night, a life with its own myths, truths and its own code. Thousands of workers at hundreds of restaurants, bars and music clubs and thousands of patrons share a world which wakes up in the afternoon and sleeps at times when most people are drinking their first coffee at work. Many speak of a crisis in this sector as the majority of Greeks cannot afford to go out anymore, but new clubs, both small and large, are opening, which suggests that businessmen are investing in this area. The ever-party-loving Greeks feel threatened only by the difficult work hours and the limitations of the purse. «In the past, the nightclubs were more affordable. Money flowed more freely. Today there are few who frequent nightclubs twice or three times a week,» said Sifis Damanakis, who has worked in this sector for 25 years. «In the past, the clubs had only one or two days’ rest. Now they operate three or four days a week. The shows are more expensive as the quality has changed. More care and attention is now given to the sound, the lights, the scenery, the appearance of the singers, the dancing and air-conditioning systems.» The artists’ fees determine the operating costs of the clubs. The other overhead costs (rent, staff wages, audiovisual systems, drinks, flowers, etc) do not vary much from club to club. The fees of well-known singers vary according to their success and impact – usually from 3,000 to 20,000 euros a night. «Before television started presenting singers, the performers had to depend on their own means to get into the limelight. Today patronage is intense and many new singers are like disposable products with a short shelf life,» said the manager of a nightclub who has been working in the sector for 20 years. The Greek bouzoukia world functions according to specific unwritten codes, such as that for the front tables. Usually the maitre d’s reserve the best tables close to the dance floor for the singer’s own people and regular customers that continue to «do damage» (clock up large bills for flowers). Many though who want to get a good table at all costs will not hesitate to tip the maitre d’ 50 to 100 euros. Guards and security The presence of security guards is a common sight at the clubs; often it is the security companies that dictate the purchase of their services. Should something unforeseen occur, these men are responsible for the security and protection of the staff and patrons, such as a drunk climbing onto the dance floor. Any incidents are resolved as peacefully as possible so as not to give the club a bad name. What if someone refuses to pay? «Any arguments are avoided at all costs. We take down their details – identity card, license and telephone numbers – and contact them so that they pay the bill,» one maitre d’ explained. If unpleasantness occurs between patrons, then the waiter tries to settle the differences. If this fails the maitre d’ intervenes and, as a last resort, the owner comes to the table. There are no pistols or knives at the large clubs. Second-rate bouzoukia The situation is not the same at the second rate bouzoukia or «dog houses» (skiladika), bars and striptease joints. These places are usually in violation of regulations (changes to operating hours, no music permit, inadequate fire safety measures, etc). The presence of bouncers is more likely there. «They often carry weapons but intervene only when there is a problem. They do not appear every night and ensure that they do not provoke the customers. The boss wants bouncers in order to feel safer,» said Nicoletta, who works in a bar-restaurant.

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