Perched above the imposing Panathenaic Stadium, better known as the Kallimarmaro, Pangrati is a cosy yet quirky neighborhood with steep streets that give impressive glimpses of Lycabettus Hill and Mt Parnitha in one direction and dramatic views of Mt Ymittos in the other.
Far removed in character but not in distance from the tourist areas of Plaka and Psyrri, Pangrati holds a certain charm which leaves you feeling as if you’ve stumbled across a secret. Its backstreets are an intriguing mix of neoclassical and modern architecture, and they often lead to quaint squares full of life.
Like many other parts of Athens, Pangrati is a mix of the new and the old, but in the charming Oliver, a recently opened artisanal shop displaying an impressive array of nuts, dried fruits, wines and chocolate bars, you get a sense of the quality in store in this unpretentious and welcoming neighborhood.
However, if there is one area in which Pangrati holds the most promise, it is its restaurants. Taking advantage of the lower rents, much of the creative culinary talent of Athens has gathered here over the past few years, seeking to provide diners with quality, comfort and affordability.
Mavro Provato, which opened in 2012, is one result of this trend. The brainchild of Evdoxia Pantou, it offers dishes made with the very best produce that Greece has to offer in a simple, friendly setting. From Cretan xinomyzithra, a sour whey cheese, to crisp, warm Kaisareia Pie stuffed with pastourmas (seasoned and air-dried cured beef), the menu is sophisticated yet with prices that would match a village mezedopoleio (a taverna serving small tapas-like meze dishes).
For the health-conscious, vegetarians and vegans, there is Mystic. Pangrati’s Mystic (it has a sister restaurant in Exarchia) is housed in a picturesque, terracotta-roofed, old-style townhouse with green shutters, enormous wine barrels at its entrance and a charming terrace complete with the obligatory bougainvillea.
Its menu includes vegan pizzas and pasta dishes with optional spelt-flour versions for those following a low-gluten diet. Yet with all the substitutions, there is certainly no loss of flavor and the atmosphere is one of genuine foodie passion and a healthy portion of hospitality. Meat lovers needn’t despair, however.
Nearby Colibri, in spite of its exceedingly odd collection of furnishings, churns out succulent burgers and has become a well-established favorite with the locals. Truth be told, however, it is their pizzas that really steal the show.
The backstreets of Pangrati are an intriguing mix of neoclassical and modern architecture, and they often lead to quaint squares full of life.
Pangrati’s eateries and café-bars are many and varied. You’ll find most of them on Empedokleous – which essentially cuts through the heart of the neighborhood – and Archelaou streets or in one of its many verdant squares, redolent of the halcyon, pre-crisis days.
In Varnava Square, for example, the traditional taverna Mouries invites you to choose your meal in the kitchen and has an ever-changing menu of whatever was best that day at the market.
Across the way lie enterprising cafés aiming to please the coffee lover. These include the popular T & Toggs, with its signature stacked pancakes and enticing choice of gelati. For a taste of the Middle East, pop next door to Baba Ghanoush and try their crispy, filling falafels.
The next stop after Varnava is Plastira Square, home to Arbaroriza, serving amazing brunch fare on simple wooden boards, and the slightly chaotic yet trendy Chelsea Bar. Ambitiously named after the notorious New York hotel, the bar, with its bohemian style and hipster crowd, is making its own waves in Pangrati.
No neighborhood in Athens, or, in fact, in Greece in general would be complete without a star bakery. In Pangrati, this is Pnyka. Featuring its own stone mill for grinding flour, it produces fresh artisanal bread such as buckwheat loaf and is equally famed for its irresistible cheese pies and tsoureki, a sweet brioche-type bread.
Yet Pangrati is not only for the foodies. For art lovers, Art Zone 42 and Titanium Yiayiannos Gallery present a continuous line of contemporary art exhibitions while the Athens Centre offers modern Greek language courses, theater workshops and cultural events.
There are also plenty of opportunities for browsing, with innumerable niche stores. In close proximity to Pangrati’s main park, the Alsos Pangratiou on Spirou Merkouri Street, lies Precious. A chocolate-box of a jewelry store, Precious showcases handmade silver design pieces as well as items featuring precious and semi-precious gems. The style is eclectic, offering everything from classic pieces to nautical-style bracelets and statement rings.
For the creative home improvers among you, there is Chalk of the Town, which sells a rich array of Greek-made chalk paints (popularly used for furniture) as well as paint brushes and waxes. They also offer workshops teaching techniques for transforming surfaces and pieces of furniture with a palette of colors best suited to Mediterranean aesthetics and light.
There is no denying that Pangrati is already very alluring, but if its trajectory thus far is indicative of the future in any way, it will surely be one of Athens’ most desirable neighborhoods for years to come.