Kostas’ Coffee Shop: One of the Most Unusual in Greece

Time appears to have stood still at this traditional pre-war hangout in the village of Sivas, 7 kilometers from Matala, in Crete.


Few visitors make the detour to the 400-person village of Sivas while driving from Irakleio to Matala, despite the village being only 7 km from the well-known tourist destination. The village’s name was previously in the feminine form, but the masculine version “Sivas” prevailed to distinguish this village, located on the south-western edge of the Messara plain, from its namesake in the province of Malevizi.

Sivas’s main open area is a broad square adjacent to the Aghios Ioannis Prodromos cathedral, where a few modern and traditional coffee shops as well as two or three tavernas have set up tables. While quite a few of these stores are elegant and well-maintained, Kostas’ coffee shop is truly unique. It’s situated a little further away, on the main road that passes through the village and just 100 meters from the small church of Aghios Ioannis o Xenos, who was born in Sivas.

The small shop, hidden behind a hundred-year-old redshank tree, has been in the same spot for eighty years. This is where we met Kostas, who was reading a book on ancient Greek literature in the shade of the tall tree, undistracted by the noise of the cicadas. Kostas’ parents, Stelios and Irene, opened the coffee shop before the war. “We had a lot of fun in the shop,” he says. “In those days, people would bring my parents rabbits, fish, legumes, and whatever else they could find, and my parents would cook and put together feasts behind closed doors. All the old photos on the wall are from that time.

Many poets, professors and intellectuals have passed through here, including composer and author George Stavrianos, politician Kostas Zouraris, and even American psychologist Jerome Bruner! As the years went by, there was less and less of that going on, until it all faded away. The spirit that brought people together no longer exists.”

There is a small courtyard with only four wooden tables, old family heirlooms from the nineteenth century, similar to those that decorate the shop’s interior, including an extremely old wooden chair with a wicker seat and a single armrest. During the Ottoman era, this unusual chair came in handy when the person sitting in it needed to draw their gun or sword. Every square inch of the walls is covered with old photos and other objects, mostly religious icons, Fayum portraits, and copies of works by Domenikos Theotokopoulos and of artworks from various museums such as the Benaki Museum and the Byzantine Museum of Venice, as well as from monasteries in Mount Athos, and Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai. Kostas curated the coffee shop’s unusual and elaborate décor when he took over the shop from his parents in 1995.

Crouched behind the old teal counter, Kostas makes us some coffee and tells us how he likes to spend his time reading books on a variety of subjects, but primarily on psychology and philosophy. Whenever he gets the chance, he studies ancient Greek and Latin and he’s also an amateur photographer. He claims that he spends more time on his hobbies than on running the coffee shop. We’ve been sitting inside for so long that the light has grown dimmer, the rays of the setting sun creating an otherworldly atmosphere as they come in through the half-opened shutters. Meanwhile, our half-drunk coffee has cooled on the tables outside. Kostas serves raki accompanied by a small meze of cucumbers, bittersweet sundried olives, and local ouzo-flavored rusks with sesame. He also treats us to “limonina” liqueur, which he learned how to make when he lived in Rome.

 

This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.

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Kostas’ Coffee Shop

Sivas, Pyrgiotissa



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