Seven Secret Psyrri spots

Seven Secret Psyrri spots

To Kompoloi Tis Psyrri

Diana Farr Louis, Diane Shugart and Alexia Amvrazi map out their seven fave under-the-radar spots in Psyrri. Excerpts from 111 Places In Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss.

To Kompoloi tis Psyrri

All about worry beads, a unique Greek tradition

Not long ago a man twirling worry beads was a common sight – on the street, in a café, on the train. Today, the smart phone seems to have taken their place. But Vasso Mahaira, owner of this beguiling shop, assures us that they will never go out of fashion.

‘There’s not a home in Greece that doesn’t possess at least oneset of beads. And they are one tradition that is exclusively ours. In other parts of the world, beads are associated with prayer and religion, but here they are used solely in order to relax, to relieve stress, for luck.’

According to Mrs Mahaira, prayer beads originated in India when an initiate made a string of 108 seeds to remind his teacher of the order of his prayers. The custom spread to the Muslims, who cut the number to 33, and to the Catholics with their rosaries. Although some say that a monk on Mount Athos introduced prayer beads to the Orthodox, Mahaira maintains that they weren’t seen in Greece until the Ottomans took over and that Greeks copied the habit from the Turks, but lengthened the string to give them room to play. Greek beads have no fixed number but it must be odd, and a multiple of four plus one, strung on silk closed by a larger bead curiously called a papas or priest, with or without a tassel.

The shop’s collection contains hundreds of beads, ranging from plastic for €5 to expensive creations made of amber, ebony, coral, wood, bone, antler, ivory, resin, apricot stones and more. They represent the passion of Vasso’s late husband, Elias Saridakis, who from a child was entranced by the sight and sound of cool street guys whirling them in Psyrri.

Choosing worry beads is like selecting a crystal: feel them, play, rub them, smell them, listen to the music of the beads. Pick the natural material that speaks to you aesthetically and emotionally. Its positive energy could reduce your own addiction to your smart phone.

Address: Agion Anargyron 13, Plateia Psyrri, Athens 10553, +30 210 3243012, Website
Getting there: Metro to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3), and a 10-minutewalk
Hours: Daily 10am – flexible, 7 – 11pm; closed only for Easter and Christmas
Tip: Around the corner from the square, Karaiskaki is a unique street hung with dozens of different kinds of lamps.

To Koulouri tou Psyrri

Bakery Sesame rings, the bread of memories

‘To Koulouri tou Psyrri’ logos emblazoned on the trunks of scooters whiz round the city taking stacks of fresh-baked bread rings to street-corner vendors. They are a contemporary twist to the familiar sight of the koulouri seller pushing his cart through the streets. But mechanising delivery to street-corner koulouri sellers is the bakery’s only update to the enduringly popular snack it began making in the 1960s. The koulouri, of course, is much older than this unassuming enterprise in the heart of Psyrri. Dating back to the Byzantine Empire, the sesame-encrusted bread ring was originally associated with the cities of Constantinople and Thessaloniki. The association with Thessaloniki is still strong across Greece, except in Athens where local preference is for a thinner, crisper koulouri. But the technique is the same and the secret is in the starter, or prozymi, and wood-burning oven that draws out the nutty sweetness of the sesame seeds pressed into the surface.

The mark of a good koulouri is its aroma – not just while in the oven but hours later. Baking starts long before dawn, infusing the dewy morning air with the smell of freshly baked bread. Still warm, the rings are stacked, loosely packed, and despatched to selling points around Athens. Through the 1980s, it comprised the customary Greek breakfast for office workers and snack for school kids, eaten with a foil-wrapped wedge of processed cheese. Today it’s often eaten plain, ever-popular even as the city bursts with shops selling far fancier baked goods.

A koulouri keeps well in a bag or backpack, a satisfying and nutritious energy boost on a day of sightseeing. Vendors are on many city centre streets or you can stop by the bakery in Psyrri. No need to ask directions: just follow your nose.

Address: Karaiskaki 23, Psyrri, Athens 10554, +30 210 3215962
Getting there: Metro to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3)
Hours: Daily 7am – 1pm
Tip: Reward yourself for snacking healthily: pick up reworked vintage jewellery or other gifts at the Kartousa Gallery (Taki 9).

To Koulouri Tou Psyrri

To Koulouri Tou Psyrri

The Handlebar

Bicycles, pets and cool customers

Greece’s first cyclists’ café was created soon after the opening of a bicycle shop (Vicious Bicycles Athens or VCA) next door, during a time when Athenians left their expensive-to-run cars in the driveway and hopped onto bikes instead. The feel-good factor of getting more exercise, becoming part of a growing community and getting through often congested city traffic at higher speed, while discovering mind opening side-street shortcuts became a booming antidote. While the bike-shop owners worked on fixing bicycles, customers hung around outside chatting and sipping takeout coffee or a beer on a street ledge, so it made perfect sense to take over an abandoned kafeneion next door and transform it into The Handlebar, a buzzy café-bar that right up to today continues to be an ‘institution’ for cyclists – and more.

The cosy miniature interior has vintage and rebel touches, with walls that are half lavender paint and half yellow bricks, a minimalist black-tile bar lined with metallic stools and a few tables outside; its warmth comes from the crowds that fill it up. Originally, the lively spot on almost invisible tiny Melanthiou Street had a widely cherished menu centred on indulgent English-style brunches and vegan/ vegetarian specials, but today due to financial restraints it serves only smoothies, juices, coffee, Greek herbal teas and plenty of beer,all at very accessible prices.

Its motto is partying and pedalling, and it hosts weekly events such as Punk Wednesday and DJ sets every Friday that crowd the street with dancers. Cyclists gather to plan events (fewer today than in the past as, despite the creation of bike lanes in various parts of Attica, the city is generally too unsafe for cyclists and the trend has dipped significantly) and discuss their hobby, but with its extremely friendly and familial ambience the space welcomes every variety of customer.

Addres: Melanthiou 8, Psyrri, Athens 10554, +30 211 4093002, website 
Getting there:
Metro to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3)
Hours: Daily noon – midnight
Tip: Less than 10 minutes’ walk away on Karaiskaki Street is The Impact Hub, an ideal spot to spend the day working in a quiet, communal space and connecting with creative or business professionals (€10 for the day).


A smashing time in Athens

By now there are a multitude of bars and clubs where you can get wrecked in Athens, but until recently there has been no establishment where you are welcomed to go on a rampage, and then walk away as if it never happened. Limba, a basement business in the heart of Monastiraki, is a modern-day allegory for the pent-up exasperation that Greeks have amassed during a long period of biting financial crises, alarming regional wars and terrorism, bad presidents and jaded love. It exemplifies a deep-seated compulsion for that furore to be released, ironically in a private, organised, financially viable way. For some it is simply an atypical destination for a lark.

Upon arriving, the client peruses a menu to satiate a seething, or otherwise just whimsical disastrous intent. Starting with prices from a handful of euros and reaching to over 100, the menu choices are set by how many out-of-order objects / symbolic technological victims one may opt to smash to smithereens. They include old computer monitors, mobile phones, TV screens, bottles and crockery. After selecting a ‘package’, the client is asked to don a protective body suit complete with helmet, visor and a double layer of gloves.

There are two soundproof rooms to choose from, both painted in a deliberately uncouth way to resemble either a living room or a DIY workshop, and in each, a selection of weapons of mass destruction, such as baseball bats and iron rods, are laid out. Limba’s manager offers the client two luxuries – the choice of music (classical and traditional Greek are the most popular by far), and the freedom to take as long as necessary. Regulars here fit the mould of life-crisis-angst stereotypes: middle-aged business persons, 30-year-old women, teenagers and tourists just out for a laugh. The owners are ecologists, and make sure to recycle every single remaining fragment after each booking. You could say that they recycle everything twice – the first time by making broken, useless objects ideal for breaking breakable.

Address: Pittaki 6, Psyrri, Athens 10554, +30 698 1373351
Getting there: Metro or HSAP Electric Railway to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3)
Hours: Tue – Sun 5 – 10pm
Tip: Monastiraki is a hub of social, gastronomical and cultural activity, including the Flea Market, the Athens Cathedral and the city’s best souvlaki joints. Combine your Limba visit with a drink, food and tour.

Remember Fashion

Original cult designs loved by A-list rockers

Remember is a cult fashion store that you can’t easily forget. Its entry stairway sets the tone as it’s splattered with graffiti slogans like ‘public apathy’ and ‘we are ruled by none’. It was opened in Plaka in postjunta Athens (1978) by eccentric artist Dimitris Tsouanatos, whose original designs immediately appealed to Greek youths fuelled by the desire to break out of a sombre traditional mould and express themselves through their style of clothes. At the time, the punk movement was also starting to yell itself into being, making the store even more alluring to Greek customers seeking to connect with a more Western sense of assertiveness.

The 1980s fashion continues to be a running theme in the designs even today, but Tsouanatos’ overall love of creative youth culture and music has heavily coloured his work – tones of New Wave, Rock, Metal, Rave and Electronica music genres are visible. Almost everything in the shop, from T-shirts with painted faces or original photos to Elvis-style gold lamé jumpsuits or studded-leather-strap S&M gear, as well as accessories like hats, shoes and jewellery are his original designs.

Tsouanatos, who is also an accomplished sculptor and painter and has published three poetry books with his own collage artwork, has become a cult figure among artists in Greece and around the world. Most pieces are one-of-a-kind or made (in recent years also by his son) in small quantities, and this too pleases individuals who enjoy a unique style. It’s fascinating but not by chance that the shop is regularly visited not only by local artists and fashionistas but even Hollywood A-listers like style icon Chloë Sevigny, the cast of Orange Is the New Black, Lana Del Rey and a multitude of rockers like the Ramones, Scorpions and Debbie Harry. Photos of all customers, famous or not, are saved in stacks of photo albums you can leaf through.

Address: Eschilou 28, Psyrri, Athens 10554, +30 210 3216409
Getting there: Metro to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3)
Hours: Mon – Sat 10am – 9pm
Tip: Continue your experience of idiosyncratic Athens by having breakfast in bed at Spiti Mas, a café-bistro on Navarchou Apostoli Street (five minutes’ walk) modelled on home living.

Avli Taverna

Possibly the best meatballs in Athens

With its slender metal door masked by graffiti and its name barely visible on the pistachio green rectangle above it, this hole-in-thewall eatery looks like it doesn’t want to be found. And yet, when you walk through it into this former courtyard – or avli – the welcome will be warm.

Takis, the owner, started as the delivery boy in the 1980s when this was just a coffee joint that catered to the shopkeepers in the area. Even the blue doors and shuttered windows lining this narrow courtyard led to workshops which turned out belts, plastic tablecloths and shoe leather in the days when Psyrri had more ‘red lights’ and tiny factories than trendy cafés, tavernas and galleries.

When his boss died and the shops gradually shut, Takis slowly expanded the menu to include food, starting with sausages and chips, but continued to fry and simmer in the alley until a few years ago when he installed a three-burner stove in the mini kitchen / pantry. He loves to cook but now leaves that to his assistants whom he’s taught to make extremely tasty traditional dishes, from omelettes with pastourma to cabbage rolls to just about the best keftedes, Greek meatballs, we’ve ever gobbled. Crispy on the outside, minty and tender on the inside, they’re incredibly moreish.

But Avli’s fans also relish the eccentric atmosphere, the faded clippings and adverts on the walls, the mismatched plastic ‘cloths’ on the round tables, the old-fashioned café chairs and the plump cats sitting on them, the garlic / chilli pepper braid dangling from a drainpipe, as well as the vintage pop music purring from the radio, not to mention the prices. The only time it’s likely to be empty is right after it opens. Then it slowly fills up with duos or groups of friends, Greeks and foreign residents – and friendly chatter fills the courtyard until after midnight. Takis’ affection for the place is catching.

Address: Agiou Dimitriou 12, Psyrri, Athens 10554, +30 210 3217642
Getting there: Metro to Monastiraki (M 1 & M 3)
Hours: Daily 1pm on
Tip: The exotic spice souk of Evripidou Street is just one short block away.

111 Places In Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss by Alexia Amvrazi, Diana Farr Louis and Diane Shugart, with full-page photos by Yiannis Varouhakis, is available at most bookshops in Athens and online at to Lexikopoleio

Leave your comments ...