Athens, the beleagured Greek capital is also the gay capital of the Balkans, with bearded go-go boys a-plenty on a scene that parties like the bank crisis never happened, as Neil Geraghty finds out.
City on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or the cradle of western civilization? When you’re in Athens, it’s sometimes hard to decide. In the past few years, economic austerity has left much of Greece’s teeming capital city sinking under an ocean of political graffiti. With riot police patrolling the streets and black and red anarchist flags fluttering from the balconies, the city often feels like a revolutionary tinderbox. However, with 3,500 years of tumultuous history under its belt, Athens has seen it all before and one thing is for certain: nothing comes between an Athenian and his frappé – not even clouds of tear gas.
Athens has one of the best café cultures in the world. Wherever there’s an ancient ruin you’re sure to find a sunny pavement café, and one of the city’s great pleasures is exploring the magnificent classical monuments with your feet up in glamorous cafés. For the best views of the Acropolis, head over to Thisio where you can enjoy timeless views of the Parthenon in a raft of stylish lounge bars. Thisio is just a short stroll from Gazi, Athens’ gay nightlife district, and is a popular early evening hang out before the real action starts at around midnight.
For the next few years the Parthenon will be partially covered in scaffolding, so for the time being, a trip up to the Acropolis is barely worth the entrance fee and tourist scrums. A better option is to head straight to the gleaming new Acropolis Museum, where beautiful marble and glass galleries do full justice to the masterpieces of ancient Greek art found on the Acropolis. You can spend hours gazing wistfully at sculptures of nude warriors and athletes, so plan your visit to have lunch in the fabulous second-floor restaurant. Here, a dramatic triangular outdoor terrace juts out towards the Acropolis and has possibly the best panoramic views of any museum restaurant in the world.
If your image of Greece is bougainvillea tumbling over sugar-cube houses, you need go no further than Anafiotika, central Athens’ most charming neighbourhood. Settled by Greek islanders in the 19th century, you’d think you were in Mykonos dining out at night under the palms. Nearby Monastiraki, Athens’ bustling market district has a much earthier atmosphere. At weekends, the streets are transformed into a huge flea market with stalls selling everything from Made in China tat to Ottoman treasures. While you’re there, don’t miss the wonderful meat market, where cute bearish butchers have winning smiles and perform some hair-raising exploits with their cleavers!
No trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the Parliament building where you can admire the Evzones, soldiers in traditional uniform chosen for their height, build and good looks. They make a fine spectacle in their short pleated skirts and white leggings. Trainees sometimes go for marching drills in the evening on the Acropolis. It’s a mean trick as the marble paths there are as smooth as glass. The sight of them slipping and sliding in their pom pom shoes has even the sergeant majors chuckling.
You’ll need to get used to some seriously late nights if you want to experience Athens’ gay scene, but it’s worth the wait. In recent years, the city has become the gay capital of the Balkans and Gazi’s bars and clubs are a magnet for gay guys from all over South East Europe. Uber stylish 8th Sin is the current cocktail bar par excellence. Their Saturday Boombox extravaganzas are so popular you’ll inevitably lose your cocktail cherry amongst the crowds.
If you’re a clubber, don’t be put off by the drearily named Apartment. This weekend mega-club has the hottest beats in town and bearded go-go boys who wouldn’t look out of place on Mount Olympus. If you’re more interested in Hades, then Fc_uk, Athens’ mean little cruise bar does exactly what it says either side of the underscore. Post clubbing night owls should glide over to Moe where young Athenians party until long after the cock crows. If you’re looking for Greek Gods, Athens has a new generation of stylish saunas. Alexander and Flex are the biggest and best, but beware of the Greeks and the gifts they bring – some of the Gods on offer don’t come cheap.
Athens’ summertime heat is notoriously oppressive, so when the thermometer hits the mid-30s, head on down to Limanakia Beach where you’ll find Athens’ gay lads sprawled over the rocks to cool down.
Finally, don’t leave Athens without a visit to Exarhia, Athens’ anarchist homeland. The whole neighbourhood is an outdoor gallery of bitingly sartirical street art that resembles Banksy on speed. Surprisingly, Exarhia is also home to some of Athens’ best cafés and it’s here that the city’s contradictions can best be appreciated. Rioting may be commonplace on the streets of the Greek capital, but you get the feeling in this intellectual district that the economic crisis is more likely to be solved over a lingering frappé.
Athens: The Very Best…
Hotel: New Hotel, Filellinon 16
Minimalism banished to the history books in this quirky Brazilian designer gem.
Bar: Sodade 2, Triptolemou 10
Fingers up to austerity in this fun and upbeat Gazi dance bar.
Restaurant: Taverna Rozalia, Valtetsiou 58
Timeless Greek classics in the heart of Exarchia’s marijuana scented streets.
Café: Athineon Politea, Apostolou Pavlou 1
Don’t forget your designer sunglasses in Thisio’s most glamorous terrace café.
Sauna: Alexander, Alexandrou 134
Hello Zeus, is that a thunderbolt under your towel or are you just happy to see me?
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