I am always amused by the sight of a huge forgotten banner still covering the front wall of one of Athens’ biggest general hospitals, with the motto “Greece extinguishes the cigarette” and the date July 1, 2009; the date, in other words, when the anti-smoking law would have been enforced. Seven years later, yes, we can enjoy a relatively smoke-free everyday life in our workspace, inside public buildings (there are exceptions) and aboard all public transport (the law does not always apply to bus drivers apparently). It is, however, quite difficult to find non-smoking hangouts (bars, cafés, restaurants) that obey the law, and where those of us who are annoyed by the smoke can enjoy our outing, without being considered high-maintenance or without having to constantly feel that others are doing us a favor by not smoking.
Most business owners in Greece blatantly disobey the law and authorities blatantly turn a blind eye. Even clients are reluctant to make a formal complaint, mainly because they would not want to inflict a fine on anyone amidst the financial crisis, and partly because, even if a fine is imposed, it would not make much of a difference. Business owners usually pay the fine, make their establishment non-smoking for a while, until the storm passes, and then they go back to their normal ways out of fear of losing their clientele.
In any case, since the 2009 law, smoking is supposedly forbidden in all public indoor places and all businesses supposedly comply. That’s why, in most places, you will see non-smoking signs – even though the owners will inform you that smoking is in fact allowed – and why you won’t see any ashtrays – even though you will be offered some sort of improvised ash dispenser, (like a plastic cup or a small plate) on the sly, if you profess to be a smoker. As one complying owner said to me “this was not a war on smoke, but a war on ashtrays.”
If you enter a café or bar and you ask if smoking is allowed, the staff will probably enthusiastically say “yes, of course.” It’s inconceivable to them that you may be asking because you’re actually a non-smoker. It’s also surreal that there are places with enough space to offer smokers and non-smokers separate rooms, which, however, end up as smoking joints since the two rooms communicate. My hands down favorites, however, are the ones where smoking is allowed “only outdoors,” where outdoors in winter is, in fact, indoors, since owners surround the outdoors with plastic walls.
Following is a list of Athenian downtown spaces which are smoke-free in theory and in practice, and where exceptions are never made. However, bear in mind that in the summer most places have their doors and windows open and smoke from outside often creeps in.
The owner of one of the most respected cocktail bars in the city is a smoker, and yet he doesn’t want his workspace full of smoke. His clients respect that and step outside for a cigarette, socializing with other smokers in the process. Wood paneling, art deco elements and subdued lighting set the tone for a unique experience at bar 42, where what you end up drinking may be the result of a psychotherapeutic encounter with the barman. According to a footnote on the menu, all you need to do is tell him a few things about yourself and your preferences, and he will come up with a cocktail tailored just for you.
INFO | 3 Kolokotroni, tel. (+30) 694.824.2455. Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 12:00 – 02:00, Sat-Sun 12:00 – 03:00
Cake used to be a tiny bakery in Kolonaki, one of Athens’ most posh areas, with delicious American-style cakes. About eight years ago it changed location and became a café while, a year ago, it changed owner. However, it still remains one of the cutest coffee & cake places in the city with a wide selection of cakes catering to all tastes. The owner recommends a slice of carrot cake, or his all time favorite, the ‘Red Velvet.’ Cake is an ideal hangout after a visit to one of the museums or galleries in the area and religiously smoke-free for the sake of its clients, who, in the mornings, are mostly elderly people.
INFO | 15 Herodotou, tel. (+30) 210.721.2253. Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 08:00 – 22:00, Sat-Sun 09:00 – 21:00
3. The Black Duck Garden
The Black Duck Garden – Athens City Museum Bistrot constitutes part of what, for some years (1836-1843), was the first palace of King Otto and Queen Amalia. The bistro’s garden, a tiny section of the original garden that the queen herself helped arrange, is an ideal getaway during the summer, while the atrium, where the royal carriages used to park, now decorated with art and antique furniture is a classy haven all year round. Smoking indoors is forbidden partly because it does not fit with the ambiance of this historic place and partly because the bistro constitutes part of the Athens City Museum which displays various archaeological finds that need protection. From May to October the bistro functions also as a bar, staying open until 02:00.
INFO | 5-7 Paparigopoulou, Klafthmonos Square tel. (+30) 210.325.2396. Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 10:00 – 19:00
4. Petite Fleur
Tiny and charming Petite Fleur, which could easily have been run by Amélie Poulain, seduces visitors with its colorful rustic decor, jazz melodies and deliciously warm chocolate and cake. It opened in 2001 and was not always smoke-free because the owner naively thought that visitors would respect its aesthetics and refrain from smoking – until a group of lawyers all lit up their cigars. It’s been smoke-free ever since to the dismay of many clients, who regularly ask for an exception to be made. The owner, however, never budges, earning the eternal love of its regulars. If you like spices, try the Indian chocolate and the new entry “chocolate Guinness cake” with Guinness beer.
INFO | 44 Omirou, tel. (+30) 210.361.3169. Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 09:00 – 00.00, Sat-Sun 10:00 – 00:30
A true Athenian landmark, Zonars has been operating at the same spot since 1939 when Greek-American Karolos Zonaras (hence the name) created a luxurious patisserie that was to become a regular haunt for many artists and various members of the city’s intelligentsia. Recently restored to its original luxury and finesse, in the style of a 1940s-1950s grand hotel lobby, it now operates as a restaurant lounge bar offering a cosmopolitan getaway for visitors of all ages. Always smoke-free “for aesthetic and health reasons alike,” it features three different cuisines (sushi, Greek and Mediterranean) and an ‘afternoon tea’ special, served from 17.00 to 19:00 with the musical accompaniment of a classical quartet. Make sure you taste the famous “Chicago” chocolate ice cream, which is said to have originated here.
INFO | 9 Voukourestiou & Panepistimiou, tel. (+30) 210.325.1430. Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 08:00 – 02:00, Sat-Sun 08:00 – 03:00
Just below the Acropolis in Plaka, Yiasemi (Jasmin) remains a favorite among locals and foreigners alike who appreciate its cozy, rustic, fireplace-lit, smoke-free indoor space in the winter and can enjoy the area’s ambiance in the summer when Yiasemi sprawls out onto the steps. Regulars are also drawn by the delicious recipes of owner and cook Mariza, who prepares everything with seasonal products and with a tendency towards vegetarianism. Her highlights are the various sweets, pies and tarts, which are always on display to inspire customers. Recently, Mariza opened an adjacent room, which used to serve as a warehouse, creating yet another beautiful, sunny, smoke-free space, furnished with unique antiques that create a warm, home-like atmosphere.
INFO | 23 Mnisikleous, Plaka tel. (+30) 213.041.7937. Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 03:00
Makalo opened four years ago and has become a popular haunt because of its fine cuisine at affordable prices. Smoke-free because the owners wanted their customers to enjoy their food without the taste of smoke, they initially met with a lot of opposition from smokers, but now have regulars, who will always choose quality of food over smoke. Favorite dishes among the regulars are the chicken fillet in tomato sauce with mushrooms and Greek trahanas (cracked wheat with fermented milk) and the grilled salmon fillet with sauté zucchini, lime sauce, peppermint and brown rice. The chef recommends spinach pesto tagliatelle with almonds, fresh tomato, olives and feta cheese and make sure you try their homemade lemonade.
INFO | 23 Nikis, Syntagma, tel (+30) 211.406.7032. Opening Hours: 12:00 – 23:00
8. Mama Roux
Mama Roux, on the pedestrian Eolou Street, opened in 2011 with a multi-cultural staff and a multi-ethnic cuisine, and quickly became a favorite among locals who enjoy its food and easy-going atmosphere. For John, its American owner who moved to Greece 12 years ago, having a non-smoking establishment was more about taking a stand than complying with the law, and even though, during the first weeks, many clients fought against his choice, he also received good press for making a serious commitment. For him, it was also an aesthetic and ethical issue; he wanted his employees to work in a smoke-free environment and his clients to be given a smoke-free option. Mama Roux is a popular destination for Sunday brunch, but make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.
INFO | 48 Eolou, tel. (+30) 213.004.8382. Opening Hours: Mon: 10:00 – 18:30 (breakfast 10:00 – 12:30), Tue-Sat 10:00 – 00:30 (breakfast 10:00 – 12:30), Sun 12:30 – 18:00 (brunch only)
This downtown wine bar and shop is a wine lover’s delight since both owners and employees, all of them wine aficionados, are always on the lookout for new labels from Greece and around the world, so there’s always something new to discover. If you are in luck, you may happen upon one of the impromptu wine tastings, when a member of the staff decides to open a bottle of some wine he just discovered. Organized wine tastings also take place here by producers who want to introduce their wines to the public. Smoking is forbidden by choice because, as one of the staff members told me, “how could we ask our customers to appreciate the delicate fine aromas of the wines when someone is smoking right next to them?”
INFO | 45-47 Voulis, Syntagma, tel. (+30) 210.322.9374, Opening Hours: Mon-Thu 11:00 – 02:00, Fri-Sat 11:00 – 03:00, Sun: 18:30 – 02:00
Named after Christopher Nolan, the owner’s favorite director, this downtown restaurant has opened quite recently and yet customers are already swooning over the fusion dishes of its Greek-Japanese chef. Marble, mosaic, wood and metal create the set for a multi ethnic culinary journey via an inspired menu; where a Vietnamese chicken soup can co-exist harmoniously with Nolan’s version of fried chicken (NFC) and a dish of shrimps with Greek stamnagathi (a leafy green) and Turkish soutzouki (a kind of sausage). Kostas, the owner, a fanatic smoker, opted for a non-smoking restaurant because food and smoke simply do not go together and “any restaurateur who claims that he does not forbid smoking for fear of losing his clientele, is simply trying to hide his shortcomings. If what you offer is good, you will always have clients.”
INFO | 31-33 Voulis, tel. (+30) 210.324. 3545. Opening hours: Tue-Sat 13:00 – 00:00, Sun 12:00 – 17:30