City’s night owls take entertainment outside

Haritos Street in Kolonaki is where it all really started. But this summer the hangout is spreading to Karytsi Square, Kolokotroni Street, Kerameikos and Avramiotou Street, just off Athinas. The scene is the same: Everyone’s outside, milling around on the sidewalk or sitting on public benches, drinks in hand, the coming and going of friends constant. It’s 2 a.m. on Sunday. A young guy I’ve been observing for a while sits on the curb sipping at another beer. There are so many people milling about that he can’t see across the street. His view is of their legs. Even if you stand up though, it’s impossible to see the other side of the street. The view is one of a small, quiet, yet dense protest. The conversation he’s been having with the girl sitting next to him has run out of steam; she stirs her mojito in the uncomfortable silence. «I’m going to find the guys,» she says. «Anyway, I’ll see you later.» We are on Avramiotou Street and the reason I’m here is that with four tiny bars lined up in a row, this small street lying between Athinas and Kolokotroni is one of the busiest and most vibrant spots in nighttime Athens this summer. The most interesting things about these bars is that they really serve as a hangout and meeting spot. They mushroomed one after the other, starting with Kinky. You may come here alone, but you’ll certainly run into some familiar face. Even if you don’t though, it’s not hard to meet new people in this lively little part of town which, nestled between gray apartment buildings, still seems like a little slice of island life with the bars jostling for space and their music blending into one another. When going out in Athens – even when the object is not a wild, fun-filled night – it is almost impossible to avoid hopping between two or three different bars. There are several reasons: In the new hangout, stretching from below Syntagma Square, down Kolokotroni and to Avramiotou, all the bars are near one another, not five minutes’ walk. And while free space where one can have a beer or a soda are essentially non-existent, the sidewalks outside these bars have replaced public squares and parks. The idea is to get a drink from the bar (or a beer from the nearby kiosk) and to spend as much time as possible mingling outside. The music barely reaches your ears, but that doesn’t matter a bit. What matters here is people-watching and running into old and new friends. See and be seen? What do the regulars think of this? «They’re wannabes,» says 25-year-old Ioanna on Avramiotou. «It’s all about see and be seen. It’s hard to make real acquaintances. I just come here because so many other people my age do.» In fact, the young guy on the curb and the mojito girl didn’t even exchange phone numbers. It must be the feeling of being part of a crowd that draws all these young people here. Olga Manetta is one of the two owners of Kinky. Her opinion of what has happened to the street is unexpected. «Imagine that we chose this street precisely because it wasn’t a major hangout. Friends and acquaintances tried to make me change my mind. It was a risk, but I knew what I wanted: a discreet space where the area next door, Kinky Kong, could host cultural events. I didn’t set this up to take people’s money. And now look at what we’ve come to. Avramitou Street is completely out of control. If the street could talk, it would ask for help. It’s just not human to have a thousand-plus people piled into an area of 50 square meters. Would you ever have four bakeries opening one next to the other? Why should bars be an exception? Of course there is an explanation. From the moment that our bar became popular, it was just a matter of time before the street caught on. The rent here is also very cheap; just 600 euros a month.» What is it that people get out of this, out of being crammed into one street? «When something become trendy, very few people ask themselves whether they really like it or not,» admits Giorgos, hanging around outside Plastelini with his girlfriend. The scene is similar in Kolonaki. Haritos Street, one of the oldest hangouts in the area, is almost impassable. The buzz of the throng travels up to the top floors of the surrounding buildings. Even the neighbors on the street above have been known to complain. This has been going on for years here and the residents have reached the end of their tethers. «We are prisoners in our own homes,» says an elderly gentleman who didn’t want his name made public. One of the owners of Baila, one of the bars on the Haritos strip, thinks very differently: «We manage to coexist. With a little bit of good will from all parties, we can always find common ground.» Electra, Constantinos, Triantafyllos and Katerina are sitting on a bench on the side of the pedestrian road. They enjoy the crowds. «Where else are we supposed to go? Your options are limited in the middle of the summer in the city if you want to hang out with young people.» Recently, especially after the new Kerameikos metro station was completed, the square around it has begun drawing the crowds. A small bar located there, Hoxton’s, is experiencing glory days. On the other side of the square, on Triptolemou Street, Gazaki and the Tapas Bar have nothing to envy. Where to go and why depend on age, musical preferences, and your stamina for walking or standing around. The trend, however, is without a doubt to keep moving, because, as my die-hard night-crawler friend Giorgos says, «the night is always young.» This article first appeared in the July 8 issue of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement.

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