I’ve lived in the northeastern Athens district of Holargos for the past 30 years, but unfortunately never got to experience it in its suburban glory days of detached houses, villas, green gardens and wide-open spaces. When I was growing up in the 1980s only a few picturesque houses remained, with the occasional henhouse and some confused rooster who wouldn’t stop announcing the dawning of the new day. Soon, however, they too were eviscerated by atrocious apartment blocks, so the suburb I got to know has always been rather unattractive and insignificant, sandwiched between the prettier and more popular suburbs of Papagou and Agia Paraskevi, and remarkable mainly because of its vicinity to the oxygen-giving Mount Ymittos.
That’s why I’m rather content that since the arrival of the area’s metro station in 2010 an increasing number of interesting businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, have sprouted on the fringes of the suburb around the metro, giving the area some long overdue character and color. Holargos may not be a social hot spot yet – it would probably be better for the residents if it never becomes one – but it is certainly a worthy alternative for all-day long escapes from the familiar confines of downtown Athens.
AN ANCIENT VACATION SPOT
Holargos, which was a deme of ancient Athens, is the birthplace of Pericles, the ancient Athenian politician, orator and general. The area is believed to have acquired its name from the words choli (gall) and argos (slow), which together were used as a general description of the nature of the locals, who were perceived as mild and without a quick temper. It is unknown whether the area’s ancient residents were actually so, while it also remains unknown if modern-day Holargos is coterminous with the Holargos of antiquity. However, based on findings from the era, the civil engineers who in 1926 chose the area to develop holiday homes for affluent Athenians believed the area probably represented ancient Holargos. As a result, they decided to keep the name. After all, it must have been quite prestigious to reside in the birthplace of Pericles. The mountain and fields, vineyards and pine forest that existed in the area in antiquity certainly made the spot ideal for both holidays and convalescence. Not surprisingly, a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients was established in 1902 in neighboring Papagou. It continues to exist and operates as a general hospital specializing in respiratory conditions.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Upon leaving the metro and taking the escalator to the concourse level, choose the exit that states “Mesogeion Ave – To Stavros”. After the second escalator, a mini exhibition informs visitors about the archaeological discoveries made on site during the construction of the metro: a section of an ancient road (which corresponds to Mesogeion Avenue, which you will encounter upon your exit), remains of workshops and part of a roadside cemetery. A glass-floor display showcases a section of the ancient road, along with copies of a clay bathtub larnaka (coffin) and funeral offerings from a child’s grave from the late 5th century BC. A somewhat eerie welcome to the neighborhood, perhaps, but an interesting one nonetheless.
HOLARGOS’ “COASTAL” STRETCH
Exiting the metro station, one emerges on a side street of the busy and not at all idyllic Mesogeion Avenue, a key city artery, which, in ancient times, linked the city center directly with Marathon and continues to serve as part of the famous Marathon route. The ancient road also offered access to many other fertile regions which supplied the city residents with an abundance of necessary produce such as olive oil, wheat, fruit and vegetables, as well as wine.
These days, the avenue itself, lined with corporate buildings, is not particularly appealing, while, directly opposite, the district of Halandri may be popular in general but this part of it is mostly residential. Most spots worth visiting are located on the Holargos side of the main road, just a five-minute walk from the metro exit, all crammed next to each other on the ground-floor level of buildings. Most shop owners are locals from the Holargos area and, based on what they claim and from what I have observed, their businesses coexist in harmony, without any sense of rivalry since each joint possesses its own character and, by extension, its own regulars. Because of its growing popularity, the area’s residents are already calling this section of the avenue the “Paraliaki of Holargos” after the coastal Poseidonos Avenue (or, more commonly, Paraliaki) in the southwest of Athens, a popular destination for many Athenians during the summer because of its vibrant club scene.
TAKE A LEFT FROM THE METRO
The first place you will encounter on the street level at 236 Mesogeion is Boogie Bar whose cheerful personnel greet guests with a permanent boogie-dance mood (even if the music playing is not for dancing), serving coffee, snacks, cocktails and carefully selected sounds. Upon entering the main section of this joint, located beyond a semi-outdoor patio with small and varied sitting spaces, the wall behind the DJ booth immediately captures one’s attention. It is decorated with album covers culled from the personal music collection of Manos, one of the establishment’s two co-owners, who is a music enthusiast and regularly works the decks along with a team of seven DJs. Even the menu here is shaped and sized like a double vinyl album. Behind the bar, experienced barmen prepare imaginative house cocktails influenced by various songs and decades. Vassilis, the venture’s other partner, speaks proudly of the spirits list, which is constantly updated, and the perfectly served gin and tonic cocktails. Among the house cocktails, he recommends “More than a Feeling,” a Bombay gin-based concoction inspired by the rock group Boston’s 1976 hit, or “Get Lucky,” named after Daft Punk’s hit from 2013. It has Bacardi Fuego Rum as its base and features a playful cola-flavored lollipop for garnish.
Located right next door, Bookali (or “bottle”) is an all-day café/cocktail bar with a more mainstream feel, industrial décor and retro touches. It draws mainly a young crowd, including groups of friends, and is also dog-friendly, as indicated by a sign inside the shop. In the morning it’s common to see customers sitting alone by the large front window reading their newspapers and watching the world pass by. Groups of businesspeople sipping on their coffees and talking shop may also be spotted here during the daytime. At night, mainstream and rock selections accompany customers enjoying homemade sangria in cocktail form. The place is also popular for its snacks, such as chicken tortilla, and homemade desserts, like cheesecake.
Hiding at no. 234, wedged between a fish shop and Bookali, is the “multipurpose café” of sibling owners John and Deppy, who have been playfully nicknamed Johnny Deppy after that famous Hollywood actor. John and Deppy wanted to utilize a street-level space owned by their family at the side of an apartment building by expanding it into a shared hallway that was converted into a makeshift yard space. Its décor, comprised of old shutters of various colors, multicolored chairs, and small tables of all sizes and design, as well as synthetic grass on the benches and even on an old white refrigerator that welcomes guests, all reflect the quirky humor of the owners, as well as the group-friendly, relaxed and unpretentious style of their place. Open daily from 10:00, either John or Deppy will welcome you with snacks made using nutritious ingredients and Greek products. For breakfast, consider the “nutritious salad” with yogurt, honey, oats, super foods and nuts, or a fresh fruit juice. In the afternoons, choose from one of the refreshing syrupy drinks such as vysinada (sour cherry juice), as well as traditional Greek drinks, such as raki (another pomace brandy) from Crete. In the evenings, consider ordering a cocktail made with Greek drinks such as Mastihito, the Greek version of Mojitos, made with Mastiha liqueur (seasoned with mastic, a resin gathered from mastic trees). As an accompaniment, try the so-called “drinking buddies” like the mixed platter with Greece cheese products and cold cuts or the salmon rolls. The music is selected by the owners, their friends, and even visitors.
Just a few doors away, at the corner of Mesogeion and Ventouri Street (named after the industrialist and contractor Georgios Ventouris largely responsible for the building development in Holargos) lies the popular espresso cocktail bar White Spoon. In 2012, it was the first joint to open along the strip and probably spearheaded the development of the entertainment cluster around the metro station. Among its strengths are its sparse industrial feel in shades of black and grey, with the now-popular pistachio green color used for the chairs and walls; the spacious outdoor area, which is covered in the winter so it can be used; as well as the wonderful, long refectory table, ideal for groups, company meetings and new encounters, if you decide to share it. White Spoon receives a steady flow of loyal regulars from the Holargos area for coffee, snacks and chit chat at various times of the day, as well as many visitors from further away, who flood the place especially on weekends because of the spot’s renowned brunch. The place is always packed with young people at night, enjoying cocktails and cold plates to the sound of loud mainstream and rock music. If feeling spiritual, try the seasonal Holy Grail cocktail with red wine and crème de cassis as a base, or one of the house cocktails, such as the spicy Burning Love, made with tequila reposado, lime, passion fruit, agave syrup and chilly.
On the opposite corner, the local Starbucks looks more like a library than a café as scores of students take advantage of the free wi-fi on offer to conduct their group projects or study while sipping on their favorite latte coffee. For me, of course, this specific location will always serve as a reminder of the Capricciosa pizza restaurant, extremely popular during the 1980s, when a single outing for pizza generated much excitement and, in my eyes at least, seemed like something just short of paradise.
Adjacent to Starbucks, the fully refurbished Cine Holargos, which in 1996 replaced the Aloma cinema – launched in 1966 –is a modern spot for film buffs from the neighborhood and surrounding areas. If it’s screening something of interest to you, don’t hesitate to go. Foreign-language films are thankfully never dubbed in Greece.
Opened in 1980, Danaos, one of the capital’s first modern department stores, is located at the end of the block, at no. 230, on the corner of the main road and Perikleous Street, dedicated to Pericles. A statue of the ancient figure, located at the corner, proudly welcomes visitors to Holargos. In the 1920s, the construction company commissioned to develop Holargos was based in a two-storey building located at this spot. The department store sells renowned local and foreign brand-name clothing for men, women, and children, as well as underwear, accessories, footwear and cosmetics.
• 236 Mesogeion • Tel.: (+30) 215.550.5908 • Weekdays 10:00–03:00
• 236 Mesogeion • Tel.: (+30) 210.651.0676 • Daily 09:00–03:00
• 234 Mesogeion & Ventouri • Tel.: (+30) 210.654.2082 • Daily 10:00 till late
• 234 Mesogeion & Ventouri • Tel.: (+30) 210.653.3645 • Mon–Thu 08:00–03:00, Fri 08:00–04:00, Sat 09:00–04:00, Sun 09:00–02:00
• 232 Mesogeion & Ventouri • Tel.: (+30) 210.651.8070 • Mon–Fri 07:30–22.00, Sat 08:00–22:00, Sun 08:30–22:00
• 232 Mesogeion & Ventouri • Tel.: (+30) 210.652.5122
•230 Mesogeion & Perikleous • Tel.: (+30) 210.652.8301
TAKE A RIGHT FROM THE METRO
At no. 242, The Ritzy is a stylish, all-day café and bar with a gorgeous, flashy, retro Broadway-style sign, which dazzles during the evenings justifying its name. It opened in 2014, replacing a not-so-fancy shop for diving equipment, and specializes in cocktails. The owner recommends the not-so-scary-looking Zombie cocktail, whose five different rums and exotic fruits make for a “fresh, easy to drink, but really strong” tipple, so maybe scary after all. On the weekends you can enjoy your drink to the accompaniment of funky, jazz and rock selections by the resident DJ.
Next door, Thama (meaning “miracle” or “wonder”) is a family-owned restaurant specializing in recipes from the Peloponnesian Messinia region, the homeland of the family, whose sweet-looking mother and family cook prepares delicious traditional dishes ordered by regulars time and time again. Favorites include goat stew in red sauce with pasta and mizithra cheese, as well as egg-based dishes, such as eggs with saganaki (fried cheese), potatoes and wild boar sausages. Most products hail from Messinia and are always fresh. Supply orders are managed by the father of the family, while the daughter focuses on customer service, welcoming diners in the traditional Messinian way by offering homemade bread and Koroneiki extra virgin olive oil. The son of the family has assumed the business’s marketing duties, creating a modern profile on social media, which has helped bridge the gap between tradition and young people who opt to dine at the establishment.
Across the road, on the corner of Mesogeion and Faneromenis Street, is the recently renovated local branch of the Apollonion bakery-patisserie chain. I am not a fan of chains, but I do like this bakery because the staff is always smiling and the products are always fresh. During the renovation, they created two separate spaces for smokers and non-smokers (much appreciated), where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, a fresh juice or one of the snacks they have added to their menu. I personally recommend a slice of one of the four kinds of pie from Zagori that are prepared before your eyes by women from the Epirus region. I always go for the macaroni pie that my grandma, who also comes from Epirus, used to make when I was a kid. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the pastry chef recommends fresh Greek galaktoboureko stuffed with creamy lemony custard or a slice of mille-feuilles.
Past a flower shop, banks, a neglected shopping mall and other local businesses, you move closer to Iaso general hospital, which has recently created its own hub of restaurants, catering to the needs of its employees and visitors. At no. 258, on the corner of Mesogeion and Miltiadou Street, you will find Celfie. Purposefully misspelled to differ – unless they are simply trying to copy Kim Kardashian, who, according to Urban Dictionary, coined the term when she posted a photo on Instagram with the caption “Hold on, let me take a #célfie” – it is definitely a modern, trendy and posh café/bar and restaurant that even Kardashian might find to her liking. It opened in 2014 and specializes in Mediterranean gourmet cuisine. Kardashian could try a Black Angus salad with Katiki Domokou cheese, mushroom risotto with truffle oil and for dessert a chocolate soufflé.
On the opposite corner, Koukounari (or “pine cone”) ranks as one of the area’s leading spots for food specializing in creative Greek cuisine. The owners’ good aesthetic taste and insistence on quality have established this place as a daily major draw for locals as well as visitors from surrounding areas, who dine here on weekends with their families. The spot is also popular among companies with offices in the area. “We place emphasis on the ingredients. Even though our menu covers all tastes, our dishes are limited so that we may maintain full control of the ingredients used,” explains Chrysostomos Averkiadis, one of the two owners. “Our principle is to offer dishes that were once costly at affordable prices.” Pork shank is the favorite dish at this eatery. It may be accompanied by high-quality wines bearing various well-known labels as well as those of small Greek producers. For dessert, try the ice cream, always made using fresh ingredients in an old machine dating from 1910. Averkiadis brought the machine out of the kitchen for me to see, as well as some ice cream to try. I won’t reveal any recipe secrets, but can say that the result is a truly exquisite chewy ice cream. Try the vanilla with rose-flavored loukoumia (the local version of Turkish Delight).
Melitini, a café/bistro hidden behind tall outdoor plants, is located further down the road, past Iaso hospital and the perpendicular Pythagora Street. It specializes in cooked lunches. Staff members from the surrounding companies and the hospital were the first to embrace the menu. Nowadays, it stands as a favorite spot for a wider audience that it has built up thanks to its food quality and warm atmosphere. For lunch, try one of the Greek dishes of the day, such as pastitsio (a baked pasta dish) or fasolakia (green beans in sauce). In the evening, choose Greek dishes and international cuisine from the à la carte menu. The owner recommends pork chops in honey sauce followed by cheesecake for dessert.
If you decide to visit Holargos, I am letting you in on a little hidden secret, a favorite joint of mine. Tucked away from the limelight of the popular avenue, it is located at 105 Voutsina Street – named after Panagiotis Voutsinas, the founder of modern-day Holargos – which runs parallel to Mesogeion, behind Celfie, more or less. Choc O’Rock is a cute little pastry lab, owned by Rena, a production manager for festivals and concerts turned pastry maker, who makes delicious “real desserts for real people,” as she likes to say. Drop by for a tasty take-away souvenir of your visit to the neighborhood and if you can’t restrain yourself, eat it on the spot, weather permitting, on Rena’s hospitable courtyard bench. My all-time favorites are her lemon tarts and carrot cake. Enjoy!
• 242 Mesogeion • Tel.: (+30) 210.653.3334 • Weekdays 09:00–03:00
• 242 Mesogeion • Tel.: (+30) 211.013.9951 (call for reservations) • Daily 13:00–00:00
• 244 Mesogeion & Faneromenis • Tel.:(+30) 210.651.9518, 08:00–23:00
• 258 Mesogeion & Miltiadou • Tel.: (+30) 210.654.7254 • Daily 09:00–04:00
• 262 Mesogeion & Miltiadou • Tel.: (+30) 210.654.0400 (call for reservations) • Mon-Thu & Sun 12:30-00:30, Fri-Sat 12:30-01:00
• 266 Mesogeion & Pythagora • Tel.: (+30) 210.653.5020, 210.653.5021 • Daily 07:00-03:00
• 105 Voutsina • Tel.: (+30) 211.012.2512 • Weekdays 10:00–15:00 & 18:00–21:00, Sat 13:00–20:00