Psyrri was the name Ottoman Turks gave to people from the island of Psara, many of whom had settled here. It used to be a neighborhood of cobblers, leather workers, ruffians and skilled craftsmen. In the 1990s, it began to change and acquired a vivid nightlife, centered on live music venues playing mostly Greek folk, as well as a few quality theaters, clubs and, of course, sundry bars, restaurants and original meze joints.
In the 2000s, the daytime crowd started to disappear and the ground-floor shops emptied of workshops and skilled laborers. Psyrri went through a bad patch, but many of its original charms have remained intact: its originality, sense of fun, good music, a young crowd that hasn’t given up on it, Athens’s only female cobbler – Mrs Eleni – and, surprisingly, the Bohemian crowd. I found a group of them squashed together at the small tables of a classic Greek kafeneio (cafe) in the middle of the day, drinking coffee and beer, listening to bouzouki, live and unplugged.
“Many of its original charms have remained intact: its originality, sense of fun, good music, a young crowd that hasn’t given up on it”
If you’re there at night, it’s likely you’ll come across an elderly seller of sesame rings (koulouria), who playfully shoots at people with a toy gun if they fail to make a purchase!
And if you go to the kiosk on Ermou Street (close to Pittaki Street) and hear reggae playing on the stereo, then it’s probably Stelios serving you, one of the sons of the family that owns the business. His middle-aged dad prefers old-school rock and roll, his mom always plays Greek pop and his eclectic brother likes a bit of everything. Kiosk owners DJing in the middle of the street has to be one of the best concepts I’ve come across in the city in a while.