travel

Explore Athens' hidden gems from culinary delights to LGBTQ nightlife

Attitude's Markus Bidaux goes in search of the undiscovered in the Greek capital.

2022-08-09

Words and pictures: Markus Bidaux 

We have the Acropolis, one of Athens’ many storied relics, in our sights as we sit down for dinner, but this article is not about retelling tales of Greek antiquity, regardless of how salaciously gay that history is. (And in 2022, who would have thought that a trailer for the MCU’s Thor: Love and Thunder would see the Greek god Zeus blow off all of Chris Hemsworth’s clothes?)

Instead of exploring the past, we plan to uncover some of the modern hidden gems of the Greek capital.

Stao Fix dishes: king prawns, and courgette, peaches, chilli, and lime & brioche, and mastiha cream dessert

My boyfriend Leigh and I turn our eyes from the Parthenon back down to our empty plates because the dishes at Stoa Fix, where we are eating, are known for being just as visually impressive as Athens’ landmark sights.

To find this popup restaurant run by chef Gogo Delogianni, a former MasterChef Greece contestant, on the rooftop of Mosaikon Hostel, you need to be in the know. Exceptional food can be found in unexpected places, as we discover.

The ceviche croaker fish with grapefruit, king prawns, courgette, peaches, chilli, and lime are delightful. And our shared dessert of brioche and mastiha cream, a Greek ingredient made from the sap of the wild pistachio shrub, is so good that Leigh asks me if I will still love him if he licks the bowl. (The answer is clearly no, as I should get the last delicious dollop.

Markus Bidaux, Attitude's travel editor, with partner Leigh

The following morning, we meet with Alternative Athens guide Josephine, who is hosting us and others on a food tour. Our culinary expedition begins at a Greek delicatessen that specialises in olive oils.

We sample several, including one so high in polyphenols it is sold in chemists in Belgium for its heart health-boosting properties. When I take a photo of the shop’s extensive collection, the owner quickly requests that we don’t post it on social media as she doesn’t want her competition to see her exclusive range — oil, it turns out, is a super slippery business…

Loukoumades - Greek doughnuts

Elsewhere, we tuck into souvlaki, local breads, tasting plates at a taverna, and a powerhouse Greek coffee. For those with a sweet tooth, baklava, big Greek macaroons and loukoumades — Greek doughnuts — are sugar-high heaven.

After the belly-busting tour, we request an Uber to the Public Tobacco Factory, a gallery space that has been renovated to the tune of €1.2 million by Greek non-profit organisation NEON to bring contemporary art to the masses.

DREAM ON - Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine & John Bock's Palms

Running until the end of November, the free DREAM ON exhibition displays 18 large-scale installations by international artists. The first of these is John Bock’s Palms, an American vintage car with giant red tentacles protruding from the bonnet like something out of Stranger Things.

Next to that is Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine — true to its name, it will obliterate your plastic, but sadly not the debt. The whole show is a surreal odyssey including everything from frozen piss flowers and a creepy Mr. Tomato Head to a huge disorientating cardboard cave to explore.

DREAM ON: Thomas Hirschhorn's Cavemanman

For dinner, we visit Nolan, a contemporary bistro that has earned itself a Michelin Bib Gourmand for its fusion of Greek and Asian cuisines with a slight French influence. We sit at an outside table as the sharing plates come out of the kitchen.

To start, we devour the green beans with nectarine and vanilla followed by the Nolan Cod Burger, but the courgette with miso and smoked aubergine is a revelation — it’s one of those dishes you try to analyse in the hope of recreating it at home.

Nolan, Greek/Japanese fusion restaurant

Everything we eat has been made using ingredients freshly plucked from the garden and served with a side order of charm from the staff. During a toilet break, I discover a welcoming sign on the door reading, “All genders, just remember to wash your hands!”.

After our meal, we are tempted into Sweet Nolan, the restaurant’s new bakery offshoot next door, where we pick up some custard tarts and lemon meringue pie.

 

Nolan's courgette with miso and smoked aubergine dish

The sweet treats help to prep us for our night out with Harrie, another Alternative Athens guide, who is giving us a tour of Athens’ LGBTQ+ scene. A past life as a DJ means he has intimate knowledge of the city’s nightlife and he’s a mine of information on what to do and where to go — as well as being a delight to be around.

We start at Rooster, an all-day, gay-owned café and bar in the central Agia Irini Square. Harrie tells us that this is where people come to see who’s around before heading to Gazi, where most of the Greek capital’s gay venues can be found.

As we enjoy a drink, he tells us about exhibiting his photography in the city of Larissa the previous week at the Come As You Are event as part of Greece’s LGBTQ+ Visibility month.

In fact, we had just missed Athens’ Pride by one day — will anyone be out this Monday night, we wonder?

Alternative Athens' LGBTQ+ tour guide Harrie

Yes, Harrie assures us, predicting a lively evening: “Athens’ scene is very alive and a strong, visible part of the Athenian nightlife, art scene, and social/political activism.”

As we set off for Gazi, we pass Hyper Hypo, an incredible bookstore selling sexy fashion tomes and queer zines owned by a gay American-Greek expatriate. Downstairs, there’s an exhibition displaying the work of LGBTQ+ Greek photographer Spyros Rennt.

Hyper Hypo's art gallery

It’s always a positive sign to see safe queer spaces that are not centred around alcohol, but there is no denying we are on the lash tonight, frequenting several gay-friendly bars before heading to Sodade2 for their weekly Greek pop music night. Harrie’s guarantee of a fun evening comes good.

As we walk into the packed club, everyone is up and dancing to tunes that remind me of Eurovision classics.

In the morning we are boarding a ferry to Sifnos, one of the Greece’s idyllic Cycladean islands, but Athens has been a brilliant first port of call.

Attitude was hosted by Visit Greece

visitgreece.gr

@greecegrammable